An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
Video and Audio Archive
How To Search This Transcript:
Seymour: All right. I am Anne Seymour. I am the Director for the Office For Victims of Crime Oral History Project.
Derene: Steve Derene, Executive Director of National Association of VOCA Assistance Administrators in Madison, Wisconsin.
Seymour: When, why and how did you get involved in the victims crime movement?
Derene: Well, I got involved in the crime victims movement largely as a result of the work I was doing at the time, in 1979, I was Director of Research and Information for the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
In that capacity I was responsible for coordinating all the Department's legislative activity. We were actually asked as a department to take over administration of the States' Crime Victim Compensation Program.
That program had been administered in the Workers Compensation Division and a couple of events occurred: there was a study of it that raised some serious questions about how that program was being managed, there was a whistle blower who was talking to some legislators about some of the problems.
The political environment at the time -- it was a Democratic Legislature and a Republican Administration so the Democrats in the Legislature were frankly hoping to use this as an example embarrass some of the Republican appointees.
And they originally wanted to create a separate agency for victim compensation, but that was not going to pass, creating a new agency. So, they looked around and the only state agency headed by a Democrat was the Department of Justice. It was headed by a democratically elected Attorney General, Bronson La Follette.
So they came to us and said, "We want to transfer that program out, will you take it?" So we agreed to take it, and that really was my first introduction in terms of handling the legislation.
There were two bills, one was to actually transfer and revise the administrative structure of crime victim comp in the state, and a second bill that would have made substantive programmatic changes. Steve Derene
There was a meeting with the legislators where they asked us if we would take it over and we agreed. And on the way out one of the two legislators, she was then in the state assembly her name was Barbara Ulichny, sort of made an off hand comment, "Oh and by the way there is another bill dealing with victims that we are going to give your agency some more responsibilities."
I didn't know it at the time, but it turned out to be the nation's first Bill of Rights for crime victims and frankly in that session the focus of attention, because of the political controversy, focused on crime victim compensation.
Victim rights and services, the Bill of Rights was -- I don't want to say an afterthought -- but it was sort of a secondary issue. We didn't know at the time what we were getting ourselves into with that. So, I got involved initially in the passage of the crime victim compensation legislation and the transfer of that program from one agency to ours.
Subsequently, in that session the legislation creating a Bill of Rights came up there was some controversy over that and some legislative activity, but ultimately that passed. That obviously turned out to be a very significant piece of legislation and it was instigated by the then head of Milwaukee Victim Witness Program that was run by the Milwaukee District Attorney's Office. Jo Beaudry at the time, she is Jo Kolanda now.
And through that process I got to meet Jo who became not only a good friend but an inspiration and a mentor. My role had always been sort of helping to facilitate legislation almost as a mechanic because the ideas came from the people in the field.
From Jo, Rich Andersen who was appointed the head of the crime victim program in our department when we took it over. Because of the role of Barbara Ulichny in the Legislature first in the State Assembly and then in the State Senate we had probably a decade of remarkable success in the Legislature.
It was particularly the 1983 -1985 session we would pass dozens of bills, it was very effective. There was usually no opposition, we almost got spoiled because it was so simple. You almost didn't have to work for the legislation.
And it was through my association with them that I became more involved with the administration of the programs and ultimately actually Rich had sort of pressured me to attend the NOVA conference in Jacksonville, FL in 1983.
And until that time, victim issues, victim programs I was very interested in it, but it was certainly not the sum total of what I was doing. I just became overwhelmed with the people, the cause, there were some other things going on and I am saying why am I feeling so sorry for myself, look at what other people are doing in this field. Just got sort of emotionally caught-up in the people and the dedication and the services. I became more and more involved professionally.
Seymour: That's a really good segue into your second question. When you first got in to the victims field in 1979, so almost 40 years ago. What was the feel like nationally? You can include Wisconsin too because I think you all had a leadership role. Include the context of the era, which was the 1970's and early 1980's.
Derene: Well, when I first got involved there had, as I said, much of the focus early on was on compensation, compensation issues. There were probably 30 to 35 states that had compensation programs. Those had been fairly well established. Although it was starting to go though a genesis, I think, in terms of the philosophy and scope and the purposes of victim compensation. In Wisconsin and many other states it had been sort of modeled after a workers compensation approach and the more we learned about victims and victim services, the more victim oriented and I think there were a lot of innovations that I think we, in Wisconsin, played around with as we were learning.
We had, for example, as many states did at the time, a restriction on applications where the victim and the offender live in the same household or had a sexual relationship. And largely because of Rich, because Rich had a background in law enforcement and investigation, he said, "You know the purpose of that was to prevent fraudulent claims.
It is almost impossible to create fraudulent claims." So, we started exploring why do we have this. So we would propose legislation to get rid of it. I mean the problems we might be addressing could be addressed in more straightforward ways. So we got rid of those things, and on the compensation side we started to carve some new ground.
On the assistance side the legislation we passed, there had been no comparable legislation, 'cause not only did it establish a statutory basis for victim rights but it provided funding for services.
And funding was one of the major reasons for the legislation. In a very real world sense the funding for the victim witness program in Milwaukee had run out. It was originally funded with some federal legislation and then when that ran out they were trying to keep it together with some community funding and stuff.
Jo thought well lets ask the state to pick it up. So the funding came through our department and our office and when I went full-time in 1983 working for victim services I was managing the Victim Witness Program. Now from her point of view it was wonderful, because the original legislation called for the state to reimburse Counties 100%. So it was sort of like here is my bill, pay it.
But Jo's motivation was more than just protecting her program in Milwaukee because it provided for statewide services. In that experience we got into some political fights. When the legislation passed for victim witness services the funding for that program, for the state to reimburse the county, it was structured in such a way -- Wisconsin is on a biannual budget basis, so every two years is a new budget -- and it was structured in such a way that the actual spending of state money to support local programs wouldn't have begun until the last two months of the biennium...
...which I believe was about $200,000. When our agency had to put together our budget for the next biennium we had to establish what the base was and we said well $200,000 was for the two months so for the 24 months of the next biennium we needed $2,400,000.
Well, the Governor and his administration said, "No, your base is going to be $200,000 and if you want to ask for another $2,000,000 you have to take that as a request to increase funding" and in the political environment then the Attorney General was an elected position did not want to be accused of being a big spender, that we were asking for all this additional money.
So there was a big brew ha ha, a lot of public attention, in the midst of which NOVA had given the state an award for having passed this legislation. That award was made right in the middle of this local controversy over accusing the Governor of trying to gut victim programs and the Governor accusing the Attorney General of being a big spender and here comes NOVA praising the state for their great work. The Governor first threatened to not accept the NOVA award.
Ultimately we reached a compromise on the funding issue by limiting the number of counties that could be eligible for state funding. I negotiated with some of the people as to how many of the counties would be entitled to state funding. In those first couple of years I think we had 12, actually 13, we ended up with 12 because I went to speak to one County Board and after they heard me speak they decided not to have a program.
Which shows you what an effective advocate I was. So there was a cap on the number of state programs that could get funding those first couple of years. And subsequently we developed a proposal for additional funding, this is again in the early '80s, and we followed the lead of law enforcement trainers.
Law enforcement training throughout the country that had received federal funding began creating what they called penalty assessments to provide the funds to replace lost federal funds for police training.
So I used that and proposed legislation to create a victim witness surcharge to supplement state tax dollars for victim services. That additional funding was used as the financial rational to eliminate this limit on the number of counties. The surcharge, when we were considering it, the law enforcement penalty assessment for training was a percentage of the amount of fines-traffic citations- so it was a percentage of a monetary penalty.
We thought, as we were thinking through the victim witness surcharge that actually most of the criminal cases, particularly the more serious cases, there was not going to be a fine. Someone is going to be incarcerated, so there is going to be no fine levied so that we couldn't attach a percentage of that fine, and we though just as a matter of equity that everybody should be paying. Certainly those who committed more serious crimes should be paying. So instead of a percentage we structured it so that it was a flat amount.
Originally it was $30 for felony count and $20 for misdemeanor count. The reason it was per count is that I learned through some other, actually we did some Medicaid fraud cases and we learned that they would pile on counts.
You could have charged 7 counts in a case, I remember putting out a press release for one Medicaid fraud case where it was 350 counts, when I looked at the case you know this should be 7 counts. Its just how you want to divide it up. When I looked at the case I though you know this is a good way of increasing the money by doing it per count than per case. So it was $30 for a felony count and $20 for a misdemeanor count.
And shortly after that, there was a case in Milwaukee after it went into effect, there was a defendant convicted of homicide and he was sentenced to life and when the judge asked him, "Do you have anything to say?" He said, "Well, I understand the sentence, but what's the $30?" So we started calling it life plus $30.
The other interesting part about that I think is that when we first proposed this and it was something that hadn't really been used before, there was very little basis to do some financial projections.
We actually entered into a discussion with some of the budget people who wanted to say we would not generate any money because defendants were poor and this is not going to work. And since then I think many states have used similar types of revenue and we generate in WI over a million dollars that goes to support these services.
The other thing we put in, which I thought was a nice little feature of it, was that persons who are incarcerated who did not pay that surcharge would have that amount deducted from their inmate wages. That there would be a funding stream.
Seymour: Were you the first to do that? The inmate wage deduction? Or trust account deduction?
Derene: I would think we probably were, because I don't know that, I think that we were probably the first state to even have any kind of surcharge for victims services. I am making that assumption because it was based on the law enforcement training funding and certainly in those days not many states had even created state funding for local services.
Seymour: Please tell the story of the planning and passing of the Victims of Crime Act of 1984.
Derene: Well, I think VOCA obviously was very significant and my involvement in terms of the conception and drafting was largely in two related capacities. One was working through the Attorney General in WI and doing the legislation for that department and having worked on the legislation in the state so when it came time for a federal victim legislative initiative I was pretty active.
That was on behalf of the Attorney General but also at the initiation, I guess, of NOVA. And I would say NOVA and the National Association of Attorney's General. There was a natural interest by the Attorney's General, in the legislation.
Seymour: And what year was this?
Derene: Well, it would have been late 1983 early 1984. You know, at the time this was a new idea that came out of the 1982 Task Force. Subsequently the work I did with OVC in terms of doing the report to congress and researching some things that I didn't know at that time was happening.
The real interest at the federal level for many years had been strictly in the development of a federal crime victim compensation program. As Ralph Yarborough from Texas had introduced every year since 1976, or something like that, legislation to create a Federal crime victim compensation program. That really, on the Federal level, the historical precedence to it.
The idea of attaching support for victim assistance programs came out of the President's Task Force in '82, and so those two things sort of combined to create what ultimately became VOCA. As part of a team, as I said largely through NOVA and the Attorney Generals organization. There were a lot of different versions and proposals we would work on those.
Seymour: Who were your patrons in Congress? Did you have any guardian angels?
Derene: Well, John Heinz certainly was a major supporter of it. Peter Rodino, on the House side, was chair to the Judiciary Committee. I since then have used the example to me, of the victims feel from the political science perspective is so the political forces, I think it is a fascinating political study of extremes.
Because on the Senate side the sponsor was Strom Thurmond, although that was the Administration bill, that was Lois Herrington's bill on behalf of the Administration. But it was Senator Thurmond who introduced it. So when it ultimately passed I kept referring to it as the Thurmond-Rodino Bill.
You can't get any further along the spectrum. We didn't have problems with the end, it was always the mushy middle we some times had problems with. And so I think a lot of the work, and I can't say that I had ongoing continuous contact personally with the legislators although I did with some of their staff there was a Tom Hutchinson who worked for Rodino, who actually had come from WI. There was a lot of negotiation, the process itself was not a typical process of developing legislation because we didn't have a Senate bill that passed and then a House bill that passed and then a conference committee.
There was a lot of informal negotiation as I recall. It was ultimately, you know the Senate passed then the House passed then they came to an agreement in each house passed an agreed version. So it didn't go to conference. So even today the history is somewhat confused because you can look at different interpretations of provision.
So there was, in October of '84 when the legislation was on the floor of the Senate, NOVA convened a group of people, about 20 or so, from various states for a multi-day session in VA at the Airlie Foundation. We were all camped out there in bunks and it was raining and foggy and we huddled in a room and we kept getting telephone reports as to what was going on in the Senate.
We would try to feed back things and I think there are several items of VOCA that came out of that session that were significant. One was, at the time VOCA, as it was drafted at that time really was intended, and this was the vision of the Administration, really meant to sustain the existing programs, the community based programs.
The vision I had in mind were the people gathering around tables trying to do bake sales to sustain their services. I remember hearing Lois Herrington saying that she wanted to provide them so they didn't have to worry from year to year about how they were going to sustain their services.
Some of the early drafts of the legislation actually would have limited funding to existing programs. I think the theory was that there were other funding services that would start up other programs and VOCA would sustain them.
A fellow at the time who worked for the Department of Public Safety in South Carolina, Richie Tidwell, who is now a consultant and because of his relationship with Senator Thurman, coming from SC was influential. I remember him raising the issue, there are so little services in this country that we should be using some of this money to start up new services. I think that idea carried through.
The form in which it was carried through got changed a lot and it was hardly recognizable, but the idea that VOCA was meant to sustain programs as well as expand came out of that discussion. The other thing that happened there was we got word, through John Stein, that Senator Specter was going to announce an amendment that the VOCA funding would give priority to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence and child abuse.
Up until that point VOCA victim assistance was meant to support all services for all victims. And there was a strong feeling that we shouldn't be picking and choosing among groups. So we heard that Senator Specter was going to introduce this amendment, which he did and I think the people at that group tried to maintain the spirit that it should be available to all.
The word we got back through John, who was in contact with Senator Specter's staff, was don't worry I will take care of it. Ultimately, that amendment passed and we have the priority requirements of VOCA.
Seymour: Just real briefly, what is the impact of VOCA on the field in the past 20 years?
Derene: Well, I can tell you the impact right away, because shortly after that I worked as a consultant to OVC doing their first report to Congress. So, I was really able to take a look nationally as to what VOCA did. And on the compensation side, and compensation was an easier program to measure at the time, it really created an impetus far beyond the dollars that it provided to the states. There were some requirements that states had to meet in order to get VOCA dollars such as covering nonresidents that I think with maybe one exception every state broadened their requirements.
So not only were states able to award more money because of the federal money, but I remember researching dozens and dozens of improvements in programs. Because what VOCA did was serve as the attention getter, it helped to educate people, in WI and I think we were the only state to do this and I don't know if it was a good idea, but we put together a package of legislation.
I can give you a brief story: There was legislation introduced by the local MADD chapter to cover victims of drunk driving under a compensation program. And I remember Rich did a wonderful fiscal note to show that this is not going to be as costly as many people thought. And I was working with them on the legislation and the chapter head at the time Mickey Sadoff subsequently became head of MADD nationally.
We were working together on it, it was going through okay and suddenly the legislation just got stopped. We couldn't figure out why, then I learned that there was one Republican legislator, and they were in the minority at the time, but he was able to put the brakes on this legislation. I knew him pretty well, we always disagreed, but we were always able to talk and debate things.
So I went to him and asked him what the problem was, he said that he had a real problem with the way MADD was lobbying on a separate piece of legislation and he didn't want to let it go though. And he had philosophical reasons as to why the state should be paying for victims, WI at the time allowed victims who were victimized in other states that didn't have programs to collect under WI. Because if we have a duty to protect, well why should we be paying if other states fail in their duty.
He started raising these philosophical problems, and I said you know those are very legitimate issues but really they deserve some serious study. If you let this Bill go through we will study it, we will bring you in, we have an advisory committee and you can talk to us, we can discuss these issues.
So he did and the Bill went through and I carried through on my promise. His name is Dave Prosser, and Dave Prosser is now on our state Supreme Court. We invited him in, he gave his dissertation and this committee listened to him, listened politely and went on to recommend a whole big package, an expansion of the Crime Victim Compensation Program.
And they used the money that was coming from VOCA as the financial base to justify expanding the program, the program that he really questioning, but we called it the Prosser Committee. So he was virtually the only one to vote against the package of improvement that came out of the Prosser Committee. They funded it strictly from VOCA, so in that case we had a situation where we could point directly to how VOCA helped with the expansion of benefits, because it was funded directly from that.
On the assistance side it was a little bit more difficult to quantify and point to some of the benefits because on the assistance side there were about 1,500 to 2,000 programs that were getting VOCA funding. There wasn't the time, at least when I was looking at it then, to really quantify.
I do know one of the immediate impacts that in some states that had no victims services at all, and I am thinking of AZ, I remember surveying the states and the response from states like AZ was we would not have anything if it not for VOCA. Because again it was not only the federal money, it was not only that financial resource it was identifying people in the state, it was political recognition of victim services.
And so I see VOCA, not only has it expanded significantly by the distribution of money, but it has served as a sort of focal point. And I think it is viewed, to a large extent, as a Federal/state partnership.
When it was passed in 1984, it was the only new spending program Congress passed in that session. It was during the Reagan Administration, which was touting its new Federalism. And I don't know about other parts of federal government, and I don't know if this is good or bad but in OVC they believed in that and on the assistance side they have given the states a lot of discretion.
I think the two facets that are important was that they gave the states a lot of discretion to meet the needs of that state and it believed in direct services -- sometimes too much, sometimes to the extent of jeopardizing the quality of services. One of the early arguments we had when Justice Department was developing guidelines was getting them to allow us to use VOCA funding for training people.
And they were so focused on direct services that there sometimes wasn't the appreciation that there is a need to support services to have quality services. Today, when we have seen years in which almost a billion dollars has been collected -- and we are going from the early days of sixty million dollars to half a billion or more -- I think there is still a concern of who we are sending into the field. What is their quality of training, their capability?
I think we have been very lucky that we have not had the horror stories that could have occurred. I think we went through this with LEAA programs. It only takes a few stories in newspapers to create a negative impression and if we are not able to maintain the quality control of the people we are funding out in the field, the possible damage that somebody could do to a victim if they are providing services.
Whether it is under state or federal money, it is a very real threat and I think we have been very lucky to date that we have not had that kind of horror story. And I think a lot of the work that is being done through the National Victim Academy and other things at the state and local level are essential.
Personally, I think we need to solidify some of that it is still ad hock, and I am not trying to say we need to centralize it, but we need to know the level of quality of who we are sending out in the field to work with victims. And that is one of my two major concerns right now with the victim's field.
Seymour: You have already described so many tactical strategies. Give me one strategy that historically you have used to be successful -- one approach that was good.
Derene: Well, in terms of legislation/public policy, as I said earlier, I think we were very lucky, very fortunate. We had an iron triangle that was just impenetrable, for over 10 years. One of our strategies was just to give it to the right person in terms of legislation.
And sometimes it was done, Jo Beaudry and I were talking about a time we were working on legislation for what was generally known as victim impact statements. In the early years we could not call them victim impact statements, because when I was talking to the Attorney General about it he got really upset because he was thinking they were going to be treated as environmental impact statements, you know.
Whenever somebody wants to do something and it is an environmental impact statement it ends up in court and stuff like that and so I went back and we rewrote in and we did not refer to it as victim impact statements. Because of this lack of support for the concept I was a little limited in my role so Jo and I used to kid around about these drafts of legislation sort of floating down from the transom in the offices.
So I was actually drafting them but we had to sneak them around. I think unlike other states, and maybe this is revealing a secret, the progress that was made, particularly in the victim rights and services field the were perhaps more system-based because we were in the Department of Justice and we were working very closely our history, our relationships, our inspirations came from people working in victims witness programs as opposed to say domestic violence programs.
It was more system driven, I mean we might have used individual citizens, individual victims in specific cases but we never had the kind of broad based umbrella organizations that you see in other states...the COVA's and MOVA's.
Maybe because we thought MOVA didn't sound very good, but it was really a hand-full of people who created the momentum, the ideas and the implementation. I think we paid a price for that as well because when those people left we didn't leave the infrastructure to maintain the progress.
And we didn't have, you know there were a lot of people, we passed a Constitutional Amendment with 84 percent of the vote, but it wasn't because we necessarily had this ground swell of citizen grassroots support. We did a lot, but I don't know that we would have accomplished as much if we had approached in a different political way.
I don't know that we had any choice. But as I said I think there were some down sides in terms of the long term. So in terms of secrets and stuff, particularly in the '80s it was pretty closed number of people. We would listen to people, we would work with MADD and others on a sort of case-by-case basis, but we didn't have that grassroots, broad based coalition. One kind of exception to that was with sexual assault.
And sexual assault, as well as victim services in some ways became the special focus because our legislative mentor Barbara Ulichny actually got into the issue before she was in the legislature. She had worked in the '70s for a coalition that had worked on the state sexual assault laws. She was working for the YWCA at the time and was part of a coalition to do that. So she had a particular interest in sexual assault issues, we did a lot of legislation on that.
Ultimately led to the establishment of funding for sexual assault. But in those years VOCA was the principal source of funding sexual assault services because Barbara was also the chair of our advisory committee. I wish we had some deep dark secrets but frankly it was so easy we didn't need many. It was, you know, tell them what we want and it was done.
Seymour: How 'bout, have there been or are there any failures that you can identify in your field back then or now?
Derene: I don't want to label it a failure, because I don't know that it is over. I can think of two things and maybe they're related and I am approaching it in a political context. I think there is a perception that the victims movement is this monolithic, powerful monolithic, I think some people almost feel demagogic movement.
You know you can't beat-up you can't criticize crime victims and stuff like that. And maybe that is true, maybe that is a facade, I don't know. But I feel the work that we have been doing with NVCAN and some of those broader issues, I don't think we have galvanized the true grassroots broad based understanding of victims' issues. I think that's our failure.
You know we have talked about this. A lot of times we talk to ourselves. I think there is a compelling case to be made, but I don't know if maybe others feel differently, I don't feel like we've made it.
And I think an example of this, just to crystallize it is, several years ago I was having dinner with Carolyn Hightower and she said, "Steve, why don't we have a march on Washington for victims?" She said it to me last night too. And it was sort of like a great idea, but I feel -- and maybe that is just my antenna -- I don't know that we could pull that off.
I don't know that...while people can say nice things, I don't know that we have that broad based political, that critical point yet where people who haven't experienced it who haven't been involved in the field get it. The way they might with women's issues or environmental issues. And you know I don't want to call it a failure because I don't think it is over, I still think it is one of the challenges but that is my visceral feeling.
The other one, and I think it is connected to that, has to do with getting people to understand. To give more than lip service for the idea of victim rights. And this may be a cultural issue we have talked about it in terms of the legal system and again I will go back to some recent reactions I have had to the idea of a Constitutional Amendment where when it was being debated on the floor of the Senate I just sort of listened to the people who were our friends, the Schumer's, and the Leahy's and the Kennedy's.
These are our friends not our enemies and we haven't gotten it across to them. Part of it again, is I think maybe a political dynamic because the people on that side of the spectrum that I identify with. It is almost like crime victims as a term suggests, in a political context we are Republican conservative hard on crime. And to the Liberals, if we talk women and children and minorities, it doesn't sink in.
So it's cutting through some of those stereotypes, preconceived perceptions. And to me I think it has got to be a visceral thing. We have allowed sometimes the arguments to be made too cerebral, particularly when we are dealing with legal arguments. And maybe those are all connected, maybe its getting that point across in a way that is effective, getting people in their heart rather than their head.
Seymour: What do you perceive to be the one greatest accomplishment that has promoted victims issues, victims issues, victims rights?
Derene: One greatest accomplishment? My answer, I don't know if it is in terms of accomplishments. It is a force that I have seen throughout my involvement has been NOVA. I think NOVA certainly was one of my early entrees into learning, to meeting, to networking as an institution. As an umbrella organization, not just NOVA itself for what it does and its functions, but as an umbrella group as a forum for meeting people, for disagreeing with people, working things out.
I don't believe VOCA would have ever gotten off the ground if it were not for NOVA. Certainly, it was a common thread throughout the mid-70s. There is not a history of NOVA, but I think that's the one constant factor that's been present in the constitutional amendment, in VOCA funding, in training, and crisis response. Maybe it is the idea of NOVA as much as it is the organization, but that to me is something I keep coming back to, that seems to be home base for a lot of things that have happened.
Seymour: What is needed today to continue the growth and professionalism of our field?
Derene: Well, I guess I look at it in two ways. One is services, the direct services, the quality of services. And I mentioned this before, but I think we need to get our act together in some way or various ways but in some cohesive way to assure quality services to victims that virtually every dollar that goes out, 90 percent of every dollar that is used is for people.
And we need to ensure the quality of the people, their training, this is a direct service -- a human service-field. And I think we passed the time when we really had to come to grips with that. You know we really don't want to discourage volunteers, and others who don't have a lot of initials after their names -- I am not saying we do -- but when it comes to providing one on one services we need to know who is out there and who knows what they are doing.
I have always said one of the best contributions I have made to victim's services is that I know that I am not a direct services provider. And so I will refrain from that and I think others may need to realize that themselves.
The other area I think is in the area of rights. It is a cultural issue, its not just a legal, it is not just rights and legislation. I won't repeat what I am sure others have said about laws and statutes. You know I have worked on statues, I have worked on state Constitutional Amendments, but I still think what we are tying to do is work on attitudes.
You don't a law, a Constitution to say be nice to someone. But that is what we have had to do, and I think that when we can get behaviors changed, cultures changed, and I am thinking particularly, I think, in terms of the legal profession, and make this a non-issue. I think we have got to cut into that cultural mindset.
Seymour: A word of advice to the buffalo chips and nickels, the newbies to the field of which there are many, from someone who has been in this field for almost 30 years.
Derene: Well, there is a lot of advice, I think, in terms of people entering the field. You and I, I think, I discovered it when we were doing State Victim Academy and we did because we are proud of our history in the state, and we did some sections on the history of victims' rights generally in WI.
And I think you told me some of the students were amazed at what went on, and I think there needs to be an understanding that this is part of a cause, part of a movement, things went on before but they have a responsibility to continue. To help keep understanding the roots, that doesn't mean that you are stuck in the past, but that is a very important movement.
I think this project is going to help contribute to that and it reinforces the commitment and dedication of people. That you are not out there alone. A lot of people in the field are working independently and you need to know you are part of something that is bigger. And I would understand the important role they are playing and the contribution they can make.
Seymour: Vision for the future?
Derene: I don't know that I have a short answer to that. I feel that if anything maybe it is to keep doing what we are doing. I think we are on the right track. We're learning and growing. There are a lot of things that are maturing in this field. It's 20-30 years old, and so we are not even middle aged yet, and I don't think we should get worried about it, but I think there is a lot of magic in the field and we need to continue that.
I think we need to nourish new ideas, and I am not sure all buffalos have new ideas, but we need to nourish that, to be concerned with quality and professionalization. I don't have a short answer as to how to do that, I think a lot of things have to contribute to that. And I think we need to get a sense that we are all on the same side in this field.
You know, we are working together and I think the need for diversity and for differences in opinions, but for us to realize we are all working towards the same goal and I think that will help nourish the future for victims' services.
Seymour: What is your greatest fear? Or do you have a greatest fear?
Derene: I think my greatest fear is that it will all be taken for granted. And now maybe that is an accomplishment. Maybe that is what we really strive for, that this is second nature. I don't think that will happen, but I think maybe in some sense it means we have succeeded.
But I don't know that we will see that. It has been a good run and I guess in the social political context we need to maintain our interest and our focus on it.
Seymour: One of the threads in your answers today if I'm interpreting correctly, is that the field of victims' rights, issue of victims' rights, specifically services, can get political. Can you talk about that?
Derene Could get? It is political.
Seymour: How and why? You have really been involved in a policy level for over 25 years you have been involved what is up with that?
Derene: Well, I think any social movement, any cause is political. Not necessarily in a partisan sense perhaps, but this has been a strange partisan field.
Seymour: Well, you have been talking about partisanship in a lot of your answers.
Derene: Well, I don't think so much partisanship, in some ways ideological maybe. Not Republican/Democrat, but Liberal/Conservative or right/wrong. And I don't think it is universal, I think there are people who get it and people who don't. And speaking for myself, victim rights, victim services is not an either or game.
I believe personally we have different means for different theories of justice. Restorative justice, retributive justice, parallel justice, regurgitative justice...you know, and I thought why isn't there just justice? I mean, I have justice for the accused, I don't have any problems with defendant's rights, for victims is part of the, if you look at a lot of victim services, and this is not to say everybody...every one is free to have their own experiences and reactions without being judgmental, but from a public policy perspective the responsibility is to try to achieve justice.
And I have a quote I took from the President's Task Force, "Justice is the closest thing to doing what is right." And you can do right for lots of people, it doesn't mean that everybody wins. And much of the public policy, maybe 90 percent of what we advocate in terms of victim rights are procedural rights, no body has the right to a particular outcome say in a judgement.
They are participatory rights, their rights to be heard. It doesn't dictate the outcome, but it does dictate the process. There are different views, to me it is inclusionary not exclusionary. I have a hard time understanding those of our friends who don't understand that. But to me, including everyone benefits the whole society, the whole system, and it is not a either or gain so I guess that is what I mean in terms of the ideology.
Seymour: What is NAVAA? What do they do?
Derene: NAVAA is the National Association of VOCA Assistance Administrators. As an organization, as an entity, it is very young. It is less than a year old. It represents the forum for those at the state, the 56 jurisdictions that administer VOCA assistance, grants in those jurisdictions.
Seymour: Why did you set it up? Why did you see a need?
Derene: Well, it was something that had been discussed for many many many years. There were two immediate things that caused me to believe it was time for this organization and this has to do with politics I guess.
And it has to do with issues with the availability of VOCA funding and the recent caps that congress passed on what was being issued to the states. As it works out VOCA assistance grants are the bottom of the food chain there, so any limitations are felt in support for state assistance grants.
And the other major thing that sort of clicked in my mind, that said we need to get our act together, was the reorganization for the Office of Justice Programs. Where victims were totally not at the table, they didn't even know there was a table out there.
You know I thought we needed something to get the views of this part of the victim assistance field, give them a forum. We also tried to provide technical assistance support, help new administrators, we need to bring people on.
I was talking about this yesterday at a workshop, that maybe part of our responsibility is to acculturate new administrators to the fact that we are not just grant mangers. That we need to be victim oriented and victim advocates in carrying out our responsibility to grant managers.
Seymour: I was in the workshop yesterday, Steve, and there was some dissention about that. There was one VOCA person saying, "I am not an advocate," and a lot of other people physically recoiling at that statement. What is your take on that? I think it is a really important issue for your specific niche of the field.
Derene: I think that is a semantic difference. And the individual, if we sat down more, would agree. I mean, it is what you want to call it and how you manifest that in carrying out your jobs. But it is being victim sensitive and understanding the purpose of the program you are managing.
It is not a matter of you fight everybody all the time -- it is not an advocate the way a lawyer is an advocate, you know where you represent your client whether they are guilty or innocent -- but it is pushing for your program and understanding the core purpose of what you are doing and why you are doing it. And it is not simply to make sure the boxes are checked but to serve victims.
Seymour: You and Jo Beaudry had an awful lot to do with the idea of a national oral history project for the victim assistance field. Could you just give me your perspective, because everyone has been asking me how I came up with this idea?
Derene: We wanted to come up with something to keep you busy. I think it just came out, we were in Meckwan, WI -- you me and Jo and we were telling stories. You and I were talking on your way back to your hotel that we need a way to capture this stuff.
That we were getting old, and suffering from dementia and if we don't start doing this pretty soon we are going to lose out on a wealth of information and experience.
|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.|