An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
Video and Audio Archive
Allen Robert Denton
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Gregorie: My name is Trudy Gregorie and this is August 21st. We're here at Opryland and I am project staff on the Office for Victims of Crime Oral History project.
Denton: I'm Bob Denton from Akron, Ohio and I'm the Executive Director of the Victims Assistance Program.
We started our started our services, the advocacy part of them, back in 1972. And I guess that puts us up there kind of early in the idea and implementation.
Gregorie: Bob, could you share with us -- you just told us where you serve -- but why and how did you get first get involved in the crime victims' movement?
Denton: Well, I had gotten out of grad school in 66 - 67. I had moved in -- I was a resident supervisor in a half way house for parolees and probationers. We were in -- in a mission in Akron.
And we were working in the field of corrections. I ended up being the director of that program. And as we began to build it, we were frustrated, because... and I have to mention I was living with them; I mean it was kind of wild to live with 18 felons.
And even for the first year of married life it was a very interesting -- it was an education you never got in grad school. After 11 o'clock, classes started at night.
What really I think impacted us was you used to hear guys come in and say, "I don't owe this damn state a thing, look what it's done to me." There was never any concept that they had injured another person.
And we kept seeing this revolving door stuff and the literature from the 70's and -- you know, saying, you know, this isn't working. And we, you know, really began to think -- and I guess part of it is was because we had an early idea of restorative justice.
That if you've got two broken people, you've got somehow to put them back together. So, we began looking at the role of trying to get some responsibility for -- from the offender for what he did to another human being rather than what he owed the state, because the state caught him.
So that was -- that was a theoretical kind of position. But we -- also had victims in '71 - '72 -- look you've got all these services, what do you do for us. Nothing. Absolutely nothing
And we began to reach out. Like I said the halfway house was in the context of an old mission that began, no traditional rescue mission, but a sort of a social service mission that began back in the 20s. And it was flexible enough to be able to take an idea and say, wait a minute there's people hurt in here.
So, we began to do the advocacy stuff early on and we watched that grow. And that's kind of how -- you know, and I guess then on the heels of -- two other things happened -- on the heels of some very violent homicides by juveniles, and a few by... you know... just inflamed the passions of the community.
And I guess from the standpoint of social movements that often kind of lights the fire.
And the other thing I was getting ready to go back into the doctoral program up at Case Western in social welfare, social work. And those two things really kind of gave us impetus.
When I got to grad school -- at that time it was rated the top five social work schools in the country. They had never in 75 years history done anything, not anything with victims.
So, the head of the doctoral program, Art Blum, got fascinated by this idea. And he -- he kind of jumped on board. And we'd pay thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars to get that kind of consultation advice today.
He didn't because he saw this whole thing was new. And that -- that got us ready as we implemented this into a full structured program to very early on ask policy questions. And also to develop a program from policy and that off of theory. And, you know, even do research or then evaluation research.
We're talking '74 - '73 - '74 -- and even in terms of looking at the stuff we learned from the 1960's and the war on poverty, community organization stuff. We knew as we put the program together -- that you're not going to be able to list the number and have people call you. They won't do it. They didn't do it then and subsequent research shows that 80 percent of them wouldn't.
So, we policy-wise said we've got to be able to be proactive. And that scared a lot of people from that point only coming from a counseling background, that says oh, you're going to destroy people.
And we knew it didn't. I mean, it -- we were playing around early -- with crisis intervention. And when you think of 72 that was the first year crisis intervention had been in encyclopedias, psychological and psychiatric encyclopedias as a methodology.
We were also playing around with PTSD, but nobody believed in that either.
So, as a part -- there again as part of the doctorate program in counseling methodology, the, the, neat faculty members said, "Hey why don't you take this and run with it." And, so, we did. And we, as they did it for the course, we built into the program.
And we kinda, you know, we were able to kind of take policy and procedure and develop services from it. The other thing that I think we asked early on -- and I understand that this is resource dependent -- resources in more than just money -- almost like social capital -- although we didn't talk about those in the days... We took a look at do you want to fracture services. And here again, I think we learned off of what we had -- what we were learning from the war on poverty.
Do you want to define this thing as a population or do you want to define it as a problem, target your services. But we didn't want to define it simply as you -- okay, there's rape victims and homicide victims, which one of the two do you want to do.
And this is where I think Art was very good and some of the other faculty. They said, look, this -- define your problem in terms of the problem itself, not a sub-population. Take your resources and develop it into a program that makes sure you don't forget anybody.
But I know the history across the country evolved in different places. And from rape crisis programs to battered women's shelters to some homicide things and then kind of began to say, "Well, how do we take care of the rest?"
And even in federal funding, we need to take a look at the populations we've missed, which interestingly enough are homicide victims. Of all the people on the continuum, they end up last.
Well, this is why early on -- I guess this is why early on -- I guess this is what kind of made us unique: A] we had the resources to do it; and B] we said, okay, we're going to create a program that's proactive and take services, which for 95 percent are generic. The other five percent are specific.
I mean, you're not going to do with a homicide victim what you're going to do with a rape victim. But if you take a look at crisis intervention in the way trauma impacts the personality, that 90 percent is going to be similar.
So, what we said is let's create this program, where do we go in this system to make it proactive and we went to police. And we were unique. We had a good relationship with the police department.
I had just two years before graduated from the academy, carried a commission with the department, still do.
So, we went to the chief who was old school. I mean, he was the old stone face, Harry Whiddon and I don't -- he would sit here and probably agree with me if he was still alive.
Our -- the Chairman of our Board was the head of community relations for the police department, Admissions Board. So, we went in and he says, well, here goes, we'll talk to Harry. And Harry sat there -- this great stone -- he never said a word for 20 minutes.
And I'm thinking, this is going down the tubes. It's not going to happen. We got done and he looks at me and says, "I like it." We have everything but a phone and a radio.
And that started us, because then we had access to all the incident reports immediately. We began to talk and do training within the department and we got the early -- I mean, called to the scene on -- this is early -- I mean, we didn't have specialized victim advocates and Victim Witness advocates.
In fact we were dealing with volunteers and then the second -- which by the way, the first year we had 103 cases. The second year, 907. That just drove us into the ground. And we said you -- this is not going to work on all volunteers.
And we had to grow into okay do we get resources, how do we get staff. What's the difference between paid staff and volunteers -- worlds apart. How do you create policy and procedure programs for staff. And the liabilities from litigation is much less than there is today.
And that was -- that was an evolution -- that was a maturing process that I guess happens whenever you take an idea and it goes into a movement -- what is called the incipient stage, the grassroots stage, where there's power and dedication, commitment. And you don't care if it's three in the morning or two o'clock in the afternoon. You'll do what you got to do.
And then all of a sudden you're going to hire people who work from 8 to 5. And they argue about whether they should have a half hour or an hour off for lunch. And you go wait a minute, this is something that's losing in trans... in translation here.
But that's what happens when you institutionalize. When the movement moves from the incipient stage or grassroots stage to institutionalization, that's what happens. I mean, they're growing pains.
But it has to do it or die. So, there's probably a thousand dead movements over the last century or two in the United States, didn't make it. It didn't get institutionalized.
Which brought us to look at, you know, the role of status. If you -- your status determines your role, determines your rights, determines your access to goods and services. If you don't have status, you got to take it to the game. If you've got second rate status, you're sitting in the bleachers.
And what we knew -- and, again, it comes back to the, we got from some of the faculty at -- you got to create a legal status. If you get it on the books, they may not fund it the same way every year, but it's harder than heck to get it off the books.
And Ohio had been wrestling for three years with its victim reparation law and it had gone down in defeat. Just died in committee. And it was dying for a fourth one.
And it's one of the things we did. We got a lot of people together, signatures by the thousand. Took some of the people from business in Akron and some at the county, took some victims and went down and testified with -- it was in the House Judiciary Committee.
And there was a lobby group down there, I think it was the Ohio Legal Society that was working with us. We got down there with -- people that testified -- he said, "Now your man may not get on. It depends on a lot of things whether you're even on the agenda," and he said, "So you're just going to have to wait around and see."
First thing on the agenda. Don't know how this happened. I'll tell you how it happened. And there again, we didn't know this was going on. The head of the -- chair of the Judiciary Committee was best friends with Art Blum back at -- and he had called down and said, "Hey, I need you to do me a favor." We're first on. Twelve days it cleared the Judiciary Committee.
We had the promise from two Senators. O'casek and Headly from our area. Now, O'casek was probably one of the driving horses in the Senate in Ohio at the time. You can get it to the Senate, we'll handle it, which is probably the safest promise he thought he'd ever made.
We got it out of the House before they went into a closed session a couple days left, like a week. And I remember getting this call from down in Columbus from the legal society saying, "Look, don't be upset, we've done something we haven't been able to do for years. We'll get it next year."
And well you know, O'casek came through in that week and they passed the Ohio Victim Reparation Law. It went into effect in 76. They came through on their promise.
Those are exciting things. You know it's the stuff you don't see going on. It's the stuff that comes together. And all of a sudden you think -- well, there's a status and now you got to pay. Now a victim is a victim and not a witness.
And that was-- okay, we were coming off a conflict theory. You can do that as much when you get into the institutionalized stage.
We looked at some of the stuff that had worked and failed in terms of social movements. We knew from conflict theory -- and I'm not basically a conflict theorist, but it was a good -- great tool early on.
At the incipient stage there were those who wanted to go down and you know, haul out judges and go walk around the court with signs. And they still need to do that. But after you make your day in the paper, you're gone and the judge is still on the bench. You're old news.
So, we knew that high intensity, low frequency conflict doesn't produce social change. But we also knew that high frequency, low intensity, the chipping away stuff is what you know -- down the road you got change, and it's solid change. And, so, that was our approach.
And rather than getting into sum zero games, you know, how do we begin to do this. Do we work within, you make the changes here, yeah, you get beat up a little bit. You lose one here but you gained one over there and you had nothing when you started.
And that's the way that the early part of the movement got. But we did it in institutions. We had, you know -- some of us -- just to give you some idea how primitive this was, I remember in '74 going to Colorado--NICOV the National Institute for... Volunteers -- had this thing on volunteers with victims. There were 19 people at the whole national conference. Only two of us were doing services.
This is late in '74, I think, December of '74 -- November - December, somewhere in there. It was the next year that the probation department in Fresno did the big conference, 360 some people there.
And a few of us got together and said, you know, we have got to have a structure. And we knew from a lot of the stuff, conflict theory too that -- but you know the Cozer's stuff, not the Marxian stuff -- that you've got to have a vehicle, a voice, the ideas.
You have to have the passions, but you have to have somebody galvanize it and then you have to have some way to take the message and get that thing where it needs to be on a consistent basis.
And that kind of -- about three or four of us came together and said, we need an organization. That was the birth of NOVA and I was its founding President. These are early days. Oh, geez it was hard.
There were all kinds of parties -- talk about conflict, everybody was in conflict theories (laughing), even your friends, and they weren't always on the same page, you know.
But, hey, it worked. I think it would probably -- after the board was set up there were a couple of other conferences and we even had one at the University -- the first real NOVA one was I think in Akron in '77.
Because we had -- the board had its meeting in '76 and that brought about 400 and some people to the university in a put together course. It was grad/undergrad credit that -- through the Department of Sociology.
And what that did -- it started a course that we finally got on the curriculum. It still is, the victim in society. And that's kind of early. And I know people are doing it, Schafer and some of the others, but not mostly across the rest of the country. So, this is early. This is '77.
Then I put together the crisis intervention course for social work and then the advanced crisis intervention course for social work. And we started adding some other programs, a couple of the other faculty started doing on death and dying and another one in domestic violence.
There were some feminist studies that kind of really went in and we were able -- we had been working on this for two or three years. This spring we're able to pull both the Social Work Department and the Sociology Department together in a cooperative venture where we have a Certificate and in Victim Studies that lead to a minor.
That's institution. Now, teaching a course is a special study -- is a nice thing -- getting it on the curriculum, institution. Now has a status in the University. So, we began -- and what we've seen in the movement I think is moving beyond the incipient stage to the institutionalized staged.
And it's there and you know, you got VOCA, you got federal monies, it's getting institutionalized, even in the community social services where it's not just well that's a nice thing over there, but now it's an integrated part to the whole social service structure at the local community. And, so, I think it's here to stay.
Gregorie: How did the work that you did in crisis intervention play a role in the beginning of crisis response, through the work of NOVA, and other organizations?
Denton: Well, I think we started doing things -- I'll take local first, in our own Summit County program.
What happens when you have a number of people killed and what happens if you have a suicide in school or what happens if you have an industrial accident or a plane -- even a small private plane.
And we found that -- we were talking about victimization more broadly. And it began to, you know -- needed to do stuff. If something happened in the school, you ended up working in the school.
I mean, no one called it that at that time. We're talking late '70s, early '80s. And I think as NOVA began to grow, it began to see this. I know Edmond in Oklahoma happened and the AG out there called and said, "Hey, can you send a bunch of people in?"
So, they pulled people from a variety of fields. I wasn't on that one. And they went out there and, you know, I think they found that this was very very help, the early days, you know, it was pulling crisis intervention and applying in a broader way.
I think more and more things happened, began to pull it together, and we began to... I know NOVA began to write some of this. I was involved with doing some of the writing part for the whole area of the spiritual dimension, how important the faith community is, the whole idea that victimization is -- I always get people's attention by saying it's a religious experience.
They go, "Huh?" And I say, "Yeah. You know, all of a sudden it starts you asking some questions: if people die are they going to live again? What kind of world is this? Is there a god, okay if there is how can you let this happen?"
These are questions all kinds of people of all kinds of faith begin to ask. "You kill my kid I'm gonna say am I gonna see him again." And these are religious questions and I think that's -- and this is one of the wonderful things that NOVA has done as an organization and that's the leadership not me, okay.
I mean they've done this all along -- is they've said this is important, it needs to be in a very inclusive way -- but this has to be part of the format. And I think after 9/11, we said you're not going to do anything without these people now; you're gonna show up without the tools.
So, crisis intervention began to grow. I think the whole thing began to grow, more than just doing debriefing, but into, you know, what's the impact. That's what I like about the NOVA model.
It says what's going on in the social structure when you really hammer it. What falls apart. And we're not talking about taking a tool of CISD or a debriefing and talking to people. Yeah, that's a tool. But it's only one. But we're talking now about the whole structure of the house is going to come down. Where do you shore it up?
I mean, what's the long term repairs and I think that's what I liked about the NOVA model as it was developed. It says, yeah, you know, the door's hanging a little lopsided and may fall, but you know the frame is not going to last on the foundation.
And it says, how do we look at the big picture? You know, what's the impact of trauma and disaster on the social structure of its institutions? How do we identify those people and those resources? How do we bring them together?
How do we deal with the people who directly hurt, how do we deal with the eyewitnesses and the interveners? How do we deal with the secondary people who sit back there on radios? Or, you know the school teachers who wonder if they're going to get these kids in their classes.
And where this really... I really saw... I headed one of the early teams into Oklahoma City and my team was to intervene with the school system. Now, a wonderful lady who was going to be retiring -- she was the superintendent of schools and she kind of -- you know, we worked right that level on the team.
We hit every grade school room in the whole system and the hot spots that were outside of that system. And it -- and also worked with the counselors and teachers, some of whom had been directly impacted -- worked with some of the -- particularly the rooms where the kids had lost a -- you know, a relative, a father, an uncle, an aunt.
And we worked through that whole thing and -- and what really was apparent was that the counselors and the teachers and the administrators were saying, "How do I handle this?"
It wasn't just that the -- the dynamic of, you know, these people are upset. Are they going to act out in my class? But how do you begin to handle some of the policy things. How do you handle, you know, 100 other school counselors who all of a sudden barge in on the scene and get very very angry and start attacking your system, because they're angry and don't understand that's a normal reaction.
How do you handle questions where, you know, mom's dead, the step-father hasn't formally adopted and grandma's going to say, I'm going to pick up my grandkid. And the school gets caught in who do I give the kid to.
And, so, we were involved in those kind of -- and this is very different than saying, let's go talk to the kid and help him through, which has to be done or the step-father -- it has to be done. But it also says there's an infrastructure that's been damaged here that can do a whole lot more damage if you don't get in there.
I like the NOVA model, because early on it said, we've got to look at the big picture. (Break in Interview)
Gregorie: Bob, could you describe from your perspective the field of victims' rights and services 30 years ago, including kind of the context of the era, the early '70s.
Denton: Early '70s, we were coming off the war on poverty. The schools of social work didn't know whether we had won it or lost it. But thought we lost it.
We had learned some things in terms of policy and procedure I think, mainly by what didn't work. Okay. And you can learn a lot from what doesn't work, maybe more than what does.
I think the attitude was still very, you know, very positivistic from the '60s, particularly in Corrections. And if we just do more and more of this it will work. And -- and I'm not knocking treatment. Treatment works and treatment -- but certain treatments work for certain people and some treatments don't work for anybody. And there's a big difference between parceling them out.
We were about to see that happen when Martinson's early work said nothing works. That came back and I know that that was -- you wanted -- you wanted a sounding board for the time.
And I was in school when that hit and it divided the entire School of Social Work at Martinson Corrections.
Martinson said, hey, here's 200 and some different treatment methodology -- don't work better than prison. Well, that was sobering, okay, and so that the Department of Corrections was very -- you know, put yourself in a corrections situation -- it's very defensive.
The attitude towards victims was not friendly. I remember I was in a training thing at Illinois State, Chicago Branch, it was for -- it was a conference, corrections conference and somebody -- I didn't -- someone else raised the question -- this is 1971 or '72 -- well what about the role of victims?"
And the answer was really hostile. "All they want is vengeance. We don't want to deal with it. It's not an appropriate topic at this conference." This is from one of the main reps.
And then we asked that question to one of the key wardens and directors within Ohio and we got the same response. Very angry. I mean, it was a hostile -- it was almost like it was a threatening thing.
Then I suppose we didn't do a lot to improve that. We ran a halfway house that eventually had grown to where we had 70 - 75 people in it in three facilities with contracts with the states. So, we knew what was going on, particularly with the dumping for prison populations stuff that they would deny. And we knew because we were getting them.
You know, we couldn't do anything with them and we're, you know, advocating for victims but we've got this guy here whose blowing up and he won't take off the streets.
So, we started -- like I said, we started from a conflict mode. And we started kind of exposing at that time one of the early programs -- it was called Operation Zero. We will return no person on furlough for any reason. That came from the head of the Department of Corrections. Who denied it in the Beacon after it leaked. [LAUGHS] We were the ones who leaked it, so you can imagine -- and if I were them I would have put us out of business too.
But they didn't, but I mean, we were -- but we were really beginning to do it. There you know, when you get a conflict there's friction, and where there's friction, there's heat, and there was.
And we started publishing a lot of this stuff in this innocuous -- it wasn't innocuous. It was a troublesome newsletter that one of our board members edited who was also the Chief Probation Officer of the county -- called the Gadfly. (Laughs) And it began to bring attention.
And I guess we exacerbated the defensiveness. In fact, I remember having a meeting with -- with the super structure of the Department of Corrections. And he said, "What are you doing?" And I said, "Well we're doing it and here's how we're doing it." And he said, "That's frightening."
Now, I'm saying that's the tenet because what happened is we've seen a 180 in -- the Department of Corrections is a part of it now.
So, if I sound, you know, kind of like irreverent that was -- that reflects I think what we were doing at the time. It sure does not represent what's happening now, especially with the restorative justice stuff.
And the Departments of Corrections are having their own victim advocates and we have access, you know. And there's no system that's perfect, but I'm looking then and looking now and saying wait a minute, we are not in the same universe, let alone the world.
How was it then? I think it was summed up-- as we very early learned there were 25 free services in our county for victim -- for offenders. You had two if you were a victim. And that was the emergency room and a cruiser. And that was the state of victims services in 1972 in Akron-Summit County and I think the rest of the country.
Gregorie: What would you say, from your pioneering speciality, was your greatest challenge for you and your colleagues in those first 5 or 10 years ...the greatest challenge?
Denton: Let me preface that by the comments of a judge. When we first -- and it was a very powerful judge and a very bright one. Probably one of the better ones we've had ever in that area.
We told him what we wanted to do. He says, "You're going to get blown out of the water. But if you survive, the ripples will go across the pond." I'm quoting. "The ripples will go across the pond." We're thinking are we gonna die? (Laughs) We didn't and the ripples went across the pond.
And we did in the state -- we had -- you know, I can remember Bob Horowitz, my buddy, he was the DA down in the next county. Their program had started right -- you know -- and we went down and we were sharing stuff.
Nobody was territorial, we weren't territorial. If this is going to work, take it. We've got to make this work. There wasn't the business of saying excuse me, it's copyrighted. We -- you know, there was this evangelism that went to it. And people believed in it.
And if it works, let's do it. If it doesn't work, why waste our time -- so that was that early spirit. That didn't last. I think you know it got territorial and I understand that, you know it was an early field and we captured -- you know, so much of surviving in an early field in a movement is making sure that people don't forget you.
We did a lot of hard political development. It wasn't easy to get stuff open in the police department. We had to change attitudes. It was lucky I had graduated from -- and I still carry the commission that made me an insider. We were able to do things, but that didn't mean it was going to happen.
And we did a lot of -- a lot of pioneering work there that opened the windows. And subsequently, I think what we saw was other programs come in, were very narrowly focused.
And if you've got a hundred thousand to give to 20 thousand victims, do you want to split that out and give 80 percent of it to, you know, a thousand of those. And -- speaking policy questions. It wasn't easy.
What I see change -- it really has changed in our area. We have almost a sister program. I mean, the battered women shelter in our area is very active, very large. I mean, it's not just sheltering. They're in policy. They're -- they have wonderful director.
The two of us have joined together -- we did it in a cooperative thing with the police department four years ago.
So, now we have this kind of -- and I think it's exemplary. Even I notice it stands out down in Columbus on the AG's group.
If you want to do something, you know, you're going to have to talk to both of us. And, you know, if somebody, you know, starts to go for funding here that's going to hurt the shelter, then you're going to talk not only to their director, but me too.
And we've got programs and we're cooperating. We're doing the driving service on the children who witness violence starting there. Their staff and our staff -- we're hiring people and we're doing it as -- as a joint project.
I want to hire somebody that worked for them. I call and say, "Hey, is this going to hurt you?" And she just called me two weeks ago. We need somebody who's been -- so this is -- it's -- this is uncanny.
But it wasn't like, okay, we'll take your services and our services and we get that far ahead -- this was a quantum leap. And it's impacted the kind -- I don't think the people in the county -- social services or the criminal justice system are quite ready to deal with programs that aren't fractured.
This has been amazing, you know, it's been energizing too.
Gregorie: What a great technique of collaboration and partnership to achieve more status and more effective service delivery and use of resources. What would you say were some of the other tactics and strategies that you employed to be successful?
Denton: Early on, along the way or just in general?
Gregorie: Just in general.
Denton: Okay, well, I think, you know -- we have to be very sensitive when you shift from that grassroots stage into the institutional stage. And the players are different, the strategies are different.
We also have staff now who are coming in who may be professional, but one of the problems -- and I think this is -- probably we ought to talk about too -- is that we have young staff, who at our salary structure, just coming out of college and never worked in a profession before, so you go to training. And that's a cost to the organization.
And, you know, some of them take this, because you know they've either been victims and have things to work through still or they -- they really have this sense I want to change. And that's cool and, you know I'm not gonna knock that.
But that also says that if you're at this stage and you're dealing at the institutional stage and you don't like what somebody did, you don't walk up and call them -- you don't go down there and tell the police department, hey you guys, you're a bunch of bums, you just didn't do this case right. And I'm going to talk to the paper, because you're not going to show up tomorrow and we won't either.
So, we -- you know, strategies change. And we have to do -- there's a socialization process that has to take place for young staff who have not worked in the politic arenas.
And I don't mean political arenas in the sense of Democrat/Republican or Independent, but the politics that go within a police department, the politics that go on in probation/parole agency, the politics that go on in the court system. Those kinds of things.
All within the social service structures or within the, you know, the foundations locally. So, there's a big learning curve for young staff who don't often have the perspective of it.
So strategically part of ours has had to have been, you know, how do -- how do you make sure that the people that represent your agency do it. How do you create policy and procedure that says to the victim advocate you do this.
It's enough to say, yeah, you feel sorry, but don't loan them the money. Or, you know, don't get over -- you know, don't get over invested. Those are -- those are line level things that you want to socialize -- but then you have to say, you know, the Beacon -- Akron Beacon wants to show up and talk to one of my line staff, who's on a homicide.
And they start saying stuff -- so you have to have the policy. You have to socialize them. Excuse me you're telling stuff that's probably evidence. Only I will talk to them or who I designate.
So, in terms of strategy, there was the normal kind of business strategy, agency strategy of hiring, socializing, developing policy procedure and kind of patrolling those boundaries that have to be watched or they -- you know, they can bite you.
I think the other thing that happened is we were able to begin to move into other boards and committees within not only our city but the county and the state.
One of the good things that happened and I'm -- there's only two of us that were on the Attorney General's Victim Assistance Board that distributes VOCA monies in 1985.
I mentioned Bob Horowitz our DA down in the next county. The two of us have been there since it started in 85. So, there's some -- but we've also seen people come in.
We were able I think strategically to think through and use some -- and some of the early people on there too. Use our own lessons in developing the procedures particularly as well as policies of distributing VOCA monies and state monies.
We've seen these kind of grant applications that took Ph.D.s to answer and then more Ph.D.s to do the research. This isn't going to fly.
And when we knew that the purpose of that meet -- movement was to -- those grassroots programs and make sure they didn't go out of business. One of the things that killed us in '76 and '77 and '78 was the death of LEAA.
We just began to get money into victim programs when we killed 'em. And I sat in one the early research projects I think that the Justice Department did that said, you know, we all of a sudden from 400 and some programs in this country to 200 some in a couple weeks.
And, so, VOCA comes along and it says this is to keep those old programs first from going down, because if they go down, we have nothing. And then to build new. And we were able to kind of say, okay, how do we create policies and procedures to fund programs that may be kind of in their infancy stage. And make that easy.
You know, sure you need accountability, but, you know how much given what. I mean, there's trade-offs here. Where do you set the competence level. And we did that I think. And we learned it from what we were doing at the line level.
And we applied those things and I think that was a strategy, yes. And I think what it did is encourage. As -- as we got more money -- but also as I think we began to develop -- we set broader policies.
Prosecutors came on. We wanted to make sure that there was at least one advocate in any county prosecutor's office, you know, or city within that county. And we were able to achieve pretty much that goal.
Gregorie: Are there anything that you would identify as failures over the last 30 years on the victims' movement?
Denton: Oh, I -- yeah, when something -- when something doesn't die it's a great success. And when you start with an idea and watch it, you know -- the ripple that went across the pond -- it's -- I think we failed in certain areas. I think you know it took us a while to catch up -- those programs that didn't make it. I think there were a lot of people who had invested a whole lot. They were individuals, they got hurt.
I think you know as we learned, you know, there were agency directors that got bounced. And then there's the other side, you know, the work place world. Those kind of things. I don't know anybody ever added up the cost of those things.
When I think of the areas that may end up being a failure is that we're caught right now at the current level of a profession, making it a profession. And yet, my staff when we start -- and that's pretty good money for a social worker, particularly victim advocates -- $22 to $25 thousand with a BA.
But any one of those starts at $36,000 in the police department or $34,000 to $36,000 in the probation -- and I lose them to the probation department. In fact, we had people, you know, from service agencies, say go down and work with us for a year and then come and apply, because we train them.
So, we have a professional problem of, you know, you don't have the resources but you want us to be professionals. Excuse me, don't mandate this and have more litigation towards and liability unless you give us the resources.
I mean, we're an infant profession yet. Yeah, we're still looking at certification and all the rest of it. But we're playing in the big leagues. Because we get sued like anybody else.
And at the same time I'm hiring basically younger students out of school, put this into an affirmative action and I can't compete with the police department for really sharp people.
I mean, this has levels in this that affects us. And yet, you know, half of my -- well 40 - 45 percent of the victims we work with are African-American hires. We've been lucky. We've got some unbelievable staff. But you know why we got them, because they got it here. It's in the heart. And they can make more money and walk any day.
The best staff member I got has conned the cops program into -- you know, everything they do they call us. And she goes out. And we're doing this coming weekend a combination picnic in honor of an officer who died five years ago.
We're going to have 200 kids come in and it's something -- so this is -- but that happens not for money. But we got to start talking about this, if you want a profession -- I've got to compete. If you're going to hold me accountable and I'm -- you know you got to hold me account -- but remember I'm dealing with people at their most fragile moments.
The counselor who's accountable and who gets $60 to $100 an hour or $40 if they're just starting out in our area, at least gets to say, okay, I'm going to schedule you three weeks from now and we will sit in a very structured room and we will go through counseling, you know, and all of that stuff.
You call me out at 2 o'clock in the morning, I just woke up and I got somebody who's falling apart. And their kids are screaming -- it's a different set. You talk about professionalism -- and I need people who can learn and who are savvy, particularly savvy and common sense is 98 percent of this. The rest -- two percent you can teach.
But I got -- you know, how do I get those people. And as this thing grows, how do I compete. We have -- one of the big problems we have with this -- children who witness violence -- we don't have a deep labor pool to draw from.
So, this is a problem and if we can fail I think -- particularly with cutting back and funds and I mean, it's not like we're rich. In our county with our prosecutor, who's one of our board members and who hired two or three of our staff to do her victim advocacy thing when she put it in last year -- she did this little study.
And we're spending $7 million dollars for corrections, outright corrections in our county and $300,000 for victims.
So, when you start cutting a hundred thousand from both of those, who gets really hurt?
So, these are -- how can we fail. I think we're at that stage now and we've got to wrestle with these things.
Gregorie: The other side of the coin is what is the one greatest accomplishment that has promoted victims' rights and needs across the country?
Denton: The one. Oh geez. Well, you know, there've been some things that are just -- funded at VOCA. I'm biased, I'll say NOVA. Without, we didn't have that... but...
You know, I know there's -- you know, the -- the other organizations and that -- that represent sub-populations -- and the National Victims Center does a wonderful job. But NOVA was there saying, wait a minute how do we get these people who are down in the trenches together. How are we going to talk to each other, cry together. How do we get the support to them. And they were there early and they never went away.
So, I will say NOVA, because it held us together to get here. John Stein, I think is a very very bright, brilliant person who's monitored policy. I think you know as far as the executive director, Marlene, goes you name me anybody in her league. I can't think of them.
And -- and all the people who have served on that board -- nobody got paid. And nobody gets paid, by the way, in a crisis intervention. Or any of these things. They cover our expenses, our agencies say he go do it, we'll pay your salary while you're gone. I mean, that's how this thing floats. I'm glad it floats that way.
I had some arguments with people locally as we do this stuff that, well, we really should be paid. I'm sitting there thinking, when are we gonna get paid for this stuff doggone it. Get your agency to do this for you. In this community -- it's here (points at heart) -- and that's what we got to communicate I think to people who have been around for a while, but never have done anything in victim -- they're good social workers, they're social service people, they're other people.
You get a little bit of this in some cops. I mean, you really get past the blue wall. They have this heart in there. Because most of them are social workers and don't ever want to admit that.
But you get them off a little bit and all of a sudden they're going to fight for the person they believe in. I don't get that from some of the other social services.
So, this -- this passion thing is I think -- and NOVA has encouraged that.
Gregorie: And that is a good segue into the next part, which is what advice would you give to professionals and volunteers who have joined in the last five to ten years, the newbies that have just come in?
Denton: Learn your lessons well. Stay creative and most of all -- and this is -- this has nothing to do with linear or positivistic important techniques, skills that we've developed and are most important.
But the other part of this is the heart. You lose the heart, I don't want you because you're not going to do it. If you're in front of me okay, I don't want you. Come do my evaluation, yeah, okay. But I think you need to get in touch with the history, with the -- with the raw power that drove people into this.
It said if you sit in a hot tub -- and this started very early -- with other people doing this -- they're different. Don't lose that. You lose that and as far as I'm concerned we can hire people then. Let's get the money and hire them.
And then it will be just like you hire anybody else and you're going to get that -- that's my number one thing I guess is you start with a heart first and you make sure, you know, that the head is very well schooled.
And then you think with your head and you feel with your heart and you don't screw those two up.
Gregorie: What vision do you have for the future, for the next 30 years?
Denton: I don't think it's going to go away. It's too well integrated and that was a success of the movement, becoming institutionalized.
Movements go through stages and one or the other -- depending whose model you use -- is they become formalized. And when they become formalized, well that really touches on what I just said in terms of this heart business.
When they become formalized then they get into system maintenance and it's more important that I run my organization. It's more important that we have the staff. It's more important that we look good. It's not as important -- what I -- you know, you lose the center of victims.
And when that happens it's time for either a revolution or reform. And that's what the next stage is usually. And where it's revolution, you tear it all down and rebuild some other way. Or reform, you go back and you fix it, you take it back to the roots and you say why are you here.
And I'm thinking -- and we have to do this -- I have to wrestle with this even as an agency director. And I've got I think 17 staff and all of whom we can use. We could use twice as many. I mean, we were really understaffed and underfunded.
You tell me an agency has 17 staff and runs on a budget of $700,000 and works with -- in one way or another -- more than 20,000 people a year. It just isn't done. They don't business can't compete that way with us. They won't. But when they can they'll come in.
This business of I think getting through the formalized stage, keeping the heart as well as the mind is -- I think we're there. We're going to watch. As an agency director it's very easy to get into system maintenance, what do I got to do. You know, who do I have to talk to. When are the grants due.
You know, geez, we -- you know -- we're going -- how do we -- how do we force people over there because we need them over there. And I'm worried about the operation of the machine.
And I'm not saying that's wrong. But I'm saying one of the problems -- and it's true of the criminal justice system, like anywhere else and sociologists study it in terms of system maintenance -- more and more of your resources go to maintaining the system, to deliver your product.
And I think that's the thing we got to watch. We're I think moving into that stage and I think if -- we need some prophets of the Old Testament who say, hey, hold on here, to get us through it.
Gregorie: And that's something that leads to a question that's not on the list of questions, but I know your spirituality that you have brought to your work since the beginning. What do you see in the future of our field for inner faith response and the part it will play on victim services?
Denton: I think you know, like the social sciences in general, you know, and religion in general have never really cozy partners. Often, you know, the social scientists have had to be -- you know, come in kicking and screaming. Often religion, those in it resent the social scientist.
I'm an adjunct professor of sociology so I'm kind of in the middle here, even in a department. And I try to use some sanity from both sides I guess.
What we have seen I think is that the hostility -- if you're going to listen to the population it's going to say, you got to deal with this. And I think we're all going to be -- you know, after 9/11, you know if you -- if you can't get the message you probably aren't going to get the call.
It's not a matter of -- and I have a friend who's one of the faculty down at the University of Kentucky. And he started doing some stuff in community development, particularly the use of rituals. I mean, he's not a minister, okay. He's one of the faculty.
When he began talking about community development and rituals of healing and that, the rest of the Department said "hey, wait a minute, we're not going to deal with that stuff." This is a sociology -- you still have this, okay.
But that Sociology Department is not going to have much to say to 9/11, they can't ask those questions, they don't have research questions, they're not going to be invited to the game.
So, I think what we're talking about now is that the role of spirituality -- there's an ethical responsibility and I -- okay, I'm a licensed independent social worker. I have a code of ethics.
And if I went in -- and based on a bias of mine -- someone I don't need -- let's say I don't like AIDS or people who have them. And I did my thing, but I say I'm not going to do it. I'm not going to deal with it, I'm not going to help you in those areas, because of my biases -- I'm in trouble, I'm breaking my -- okay, I probably ought to be given a ticket back.
The same things happens with my attitude towards spiritual -- I'm going to help you with this, this and this, but I don't believe that religion has -- it's a bunch of hocus pocus, I probably need to get on the bus, I don't belong here any more.
Because you can't give the people what the occasion demands. I think that's what we're at with spiritual -- I think the role of spirituality gets beyond whether I'm a Catholic, Baptist, Jew or whatever. And it says, you know, okay, there is this dimension.
Well, we have our own. I have mine, okay. I'm a Christian. Okay. I'm an ordained minister. I also know that -- that what I believe has this foundation that we share and we've got to become allies not enemies.
In fact, one of the things I've learned is never make an enemy out of an ally, doggone it. We're back to good conflict theory here, you know. Because you might need them in the next coalition. (Laughs)
But this is one that I think is a broad boundary and when we talk about spirituality we are really talking about people's connection to the universe, their role in life, is there life or death afterwards.
It's the old question that Job asks, "If a person dies will they live again?" You know, why did god let them -- and these are religious questions. You've got to deal with them.
And I think the role of spirituality is such that we're not talking about the structure of institutionalized religion, but here's our common ground. To work together -- but it's also the common ground that says, "Hey, wait I'm not dealing with church and state here. I'm really meeting legitimate needs."
The Justice Department I think has been very wise. They've even funded training for clergy, because they understand clergy can screw people up. And smart clergy can really help them.
So, I think the role of spirituality -- after 9/11 we're not getting the point... It's kind of like crisis intervene -- after 9/11, no one's saying, "Well does this work?" You know, yeah -- did you see? And I think that's where we're at with -- with the issue of spirituality, too.
Gregorie: You mentioned a few names and I wonder, are there two or three people who have impacted our movement most positively?
Denton: I think we don't -- you know, and John's kind out of -- out of visibility. He's over in Japan, John Dussich. He doesn't get much recognition by the way, but deserves it.
I mean, he's been at the international level more than anything else and done a lot of stuff in Japan in that unique culture. But I think the early stuff that John Dussich has to be, somebody has got to do something with that. Okay.
I mean, he -- if Schaefer was in -- Schaefer really -- his works really drove me more Viano's stuff, I'll be honest with you -- Schaefer.
And I think probably -- I don't know that Viano would have said this or would say this -- Schaefer probably drove him too. Schaefer and I think the -- Dussich -- and John needs some credit, okay.
Obviously, Marlene and John I think are the early leadership of -- of the movement, I mean even Norm Early, Norm came along in the 80s. People who came -- some who had given enough and left, went on. And most probably would be nameless, but at least in a general way, let's not forget those who came and gave a whole lot and then moved on.
And they did their contribution and we're here because of them. And they probably don't want their names mentioned, but there are those -- I think there were a lot of victims who got involved, got overwhelmed, but they were laying bricks and that road is still there.
And there's, you know, I suppose -- I've been lucky. I've gotten some I guess recognition, you'd say. That's maybe because I've lived this long and didn't run away.
But there's the people who have gotten the recognition, but I think like any other movement it's the -- it's the quiet people who showed up day in and day out. We're not going to know their names. But by God if we forget them, darn us.
Gregorie: Anything you want to add?
Denton: For once in my life and it's 30 years. I'm not ready to retire yet. I'll tell you that right now. We've done some exciting things.
I mean, we brought in a full-time chaplain. He's a retired post commander for the Ohio State Patrol, who then went into the ministry. So, we've got one of the 86 or 87 full-time chaplains in the country that also works with victims, as well as our police department.
Those are exciting things that are happening and they -- but that kind of leads to I guess my own personal thing, how often in life do you even get an idea to come up with... an occasion to take an idea and make it happen and watch that idea go across the pond, you know.
I -- I -- you know -- I mean, I didn't go into the church, although I worked in a church for a year or two -- and you sometimes say, well, should I have done that. No, no this was a ministry.
And rather than getting up an writing sermons, I've been able to take the idea and work with some of the best people in the whole wide world. I mean, really, these are -- these are the cream, okay. And cream comes to the top when you put the heat up to it -- to the milk. Okay. And they came to the top.
The ability to take the idea to be a part of it, make it happen and say, I made a difference, this is the existential part. This is the personal part. And says, yeah, and that's about as good a ministry as I could have gotten.
So, when the day comes to die, I'm going to say, yeah, you probably did about five times as much as you could have anywhere else.
|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.|