An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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Seymour: I will, I am going to just ask you to introduce yourself -- that Judge Lois Haight, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah all the way down to John and then we'll come back to Lois. (tape blips) I want to start by saying thank you all for joining us for the Office for Victims of Crime Oral History Project. And Judge Haight, I'm going to ask you to start us off with just, ...tell us who you are and what years you were involved with OVC.
Haight: Well, what years I was involved with OVC? Let's just say I started the President's Task Force in 1982 and I left in November of 1986 to go to the White House Conference and Drug Free America.
Sigmon: I'm Jane Nady Burnley, now Sigmon. I was the Director of the Office for Victims of Crime starting in 1987. I left in 1991.
Adams: And I'm Aileen Adams. I was the Director of OVC from October of 1994 to the end of 1997.
Gillis: And I'm John Gillis. I'm the current Director of OVC. I was appointed September 13th of 2001.
Seymour: Lois, I'm going to start off by asking you if you can briefly describe your tenure as a... as a... the founder of OVC, if I can use that, including if you will the context of the era, maybe a little about the President's Task Force.
Haight: Well, the President had started a Task Force on Victims of Crime, which I had the honor to chair and we went around the country and hold hearings in six states and we got a lot of information and we wrote a report, gave it to the President, he really loved it. He said, "I want you to implement these recommendations," and then he made me Assistant Attorney General to do that. Then one of those recommendations was, in essence, creating an office for victims of crime. So I had the honor of being able to create that and get it started which was a labor of love and it was also kind of special because it was really holding true to requests and needs of the victims. That it was not going to just be a Task Force to put on a shelf later. It really was going to be a living document. So it was a big... it was a big thrill to do.
Seymour: Jane, how about you?
Sigmon: Well, I went to OVC in the Spring. In fact, I reported to work during Crime Victims' Rights Week in 1987. The Office was just past probably its infancy stage. The, I stayed there until late 1991 and, the kind of things that were going on at that time were, the OVC had made its first grants to states for assistance and compensation and, the challenges included things like making the Office, organized and run in a way that all this money, people had no idea how much money was gonna was actually going to come into this Fund was administered in a way that it could prove how useful it could be and critical it was because there was a Sunset Law. The law was gonna go away in 1988 if, ... if we didn't administer it effectively. I mean it was a time when we didn't have Federal... the Federal Crime Victims' Bill of Rights yet hadn't been passed. We still didn't have mandatory reporting of child abuse laws on Indian reservations. You know, the AIDS Commission was holding hearings during that time and we, uh, we, I was able to provide testimony about the importance of sexual assault victims having the right to know about the HIV status of sexual assault offenders at the earliest possible point in the criminal justice process. There were lots of issues that were just emerging as brand new issues at that time. It was, by no means did we have, the legislative and legal structure in place. It was the very beginning really of... of really implementing the President's Task Force and making it a reality, making those recommendations a reality.
Adams: Well, when I came to OVC in 1994, during the Clinton years, I have to say that the seeds were really planted. You two planted the seeds and this was our bible, the President's Task Force on Victims' of Crime. And I have often said frequently throughout my tenure at OVC and subsequently a silent thank you to Lois for this because this is what got our movement started in many ways, especially in the Federal system. This is what kept us going and I viewed my job, as the Director of OVC, it was to take the seeds that you two had planted and to spread them in a number of different ways. The Crime Victims' Fund, which when you started was about $60 million...
Haight: $100... $100 million. Well... (interruption)
Adams: Was it $100 million? (both talking at once) I think the first fund was 68... (interruption)
Haight: Right, but the actual collections... the actual collections were in the 60s.
Adams: You're probably right. Okay. Well, when the... (interruption)
Haight: We promised we wouldn't go over a 100. (Laughter)
Adams: By the time... (interruption) Right. Okay.
Haight: That's how we got it!
Adams: Well, we made no such promise, Lois! (Laughter)
Haight: That's right, that's right.
Adams: We made no such promise.
Haight: We went out and pushed that cap higher. That's right.
Adams: We went out to all the U.S. Attorneys. We thanked them prolifically for all of their efforts in increasing fines. We brought them together with the service providers from their areas so they could see where the fines were going and that Fund reached $550 million.
Haight: Um-hum. That's great.
Adams: I mean we greatly... and what did that mean? That meant that we could send so much money out into the field to support crime victim services. It made such a difference.
Haight: Right. I agree.
Adams: And so I've often thought that you have no idea what you reaped because it just... it spread and it was so important, it was so fundamental. The other thing I think that we really tried to do was promote promising practices. There had been many strides in the crime victims' field during this time, through the '80s and into the '90s, somewhat in the '70s when a lot of the programs began. So there were promising practices in place. There were police officers who were doing it right. There were prosecutors who were doing right. There were some judges who were doing it right.
Haight: Not many.
Adams: And well... not many and there could still be more but if...
Adams: There were programs like children's advocacy centers, like the Triad Program, there were models like the Rape Treatment Center, programs that were doing it right. So what we tried to do with some of that money was to popularize the promising practices and I am very competitive in nature. You wrote this incredible book. I couldn't match what you had done because I could never come up with something as innovative as the Crime Victims' Fund, but we did write this book, New Directions from the Field, Victims Rights and Services...
Haight: That was very good. I thought it was very good.
Adams: ...for the 21st Century and what we did here was really to try to build on what you had given us and to show what was being done to give communities a chance to see how it could be done better and to adapt these programs, these promising practices, into their own community. The other thing that we tried to do was to really train the Federal system, which was back where the State system was in the '80s. I mean, they were ten years behind in many respects.
Adams: And we can go into that more later with the Oklahoma City Bombing and so forth.
Seymour: Mr. Gillis, your tenure is now so the question will be a little bit different for you, but if you could describe since you've... since you've been at OVC, what your tenure's been like and the context of what's been happening the last two years?
Gillis: Oh, my goodness, entirely different I think from what most of you have described. I mentioned that I came to OVC in September of 2001. I was scheduled for a confirmation hearing on September the 13th and I arrived early in uh, in the DC area, came in on September the 10th so that I'd have time to get ready for the Senate hearing. Of course, we all know what happened on September the 11th and something that all Americans will never forget. But then I went for my confirmation hearing and the following week, I was sitting at OVC in the midst of all the September 11th chaos. So it was quite different, I think, from what the three of you had experienced because it became a whole new ball game of dealing with victims of mass violence, just an untold number of victims, a large number of victims and although I think you all had experienced the mass violence towards victims...
Adams: Nothing like that.
Gillis: But nothing of this magnitude.
Haight: No. Nothing like that, no.
Gillis: ...but nothing of this magnitude. So thank goodness that we did have the things to fall back on, some of the guidelines that had been set by earlier Directors and although it dealt with a small number of victims, it gave us the framework to actually expand that and deal with a large number. So I think overall it went very smoothly. The staff did a fantastic job in dealing with the victims of 9-11 and it, I really have to attribute that to all the work that had gone into getting OVC ready for that kind of a mass violence kind of operation.
Adams: You're never completely ready for that kind of horrific crime, but I have to say that I don't think that there is anything that strengthened the Federal system more at the time that I was OVC Director than the Oklahoma City bombing. We had people in the Federal system who were under trained, we were trying to provide them with training. But the Oklahoma City bombing, the Attorney General Janet Reno at the time, was insistent that we respond in a model way, that we provide those victims with every service we possible could. And so for the first time, everyone in the Federal system saw a model of behavior which they could emulate from the U.S. Attorneys, who held briefings for all of those victims so they would know the status of the case on a regular basis, to the transfer tape... (interruption)
Sigmon: It was probably the first time.
Adams: It was the first time.
Sigmon: Probably the first time a U.S. Attorney had done that.
Adams: Yes, it was, it was and they were in shock. I mean they... when I first went and talked to them about victim compensation, most of them didn't know what it was. We provided traveling expenses, we provided a video hook-up when the trial was moved to Denver so the Oklahoma City bombing victims could see the trial going on. We accompanied them to the court, those who wanted to go. We had a safe haven in Denver. It was a comprehensive approach and it profoundly, profoundly, and I think forever, changed the Federal system in a very positive way, as difficult as it was.
Sigmon: The, uh, you know, the history in terms of the background of the Federal system. When I was there, the, we had Attorney General's guidelines, thanks to your work on the Victim Witness Protection Act and the first Attorney General's guidelines from 1983...
Sigmon: ...and we had victims... new victims' rights legislation in 1990... 1990 and we issued new more precise, more far reaching, uh, Attorney General's guidelines in 1991, but we battled over adequate staffing and training for victim witness coordinators. At that time they were still LECC, Law Enforcement Coordinating Council and Victim Witness Assistance Coordinators, and there was a time when I was very much battling with EOUSA to make those positions full-time and we just couldn't get it done. They felt like the U.S. Attorney's Offices didn't need full-time Victim Witness Assistance Coordinators and they were ten years behind at that time.
Adams: They were.
Haight: Well, they felt that it was State...
Sigmon: Local... local District Attorneys...
Haight: If crime is, you know, that kind of crime was State crime.
Haight: They dealt with different crime in the Federal system and I think that's a first time that they focused so much on oh, wow, we have the same type of victim here in a Federal system now that, uh, you did in the States so...
Adams: Except in Indian Country.
Gillis: In each of the districts.
Haight: Right. But the Indian Country was late to come on board though so I did a lot of testifying.
Gillis: Each of them do have a full-time victim witness, uh, person.
Gillis: At the EOUSA and also within the FBI.
Seymour: Challenges or barriers for all of you and I think maybe, John, I'm going to start with you and work our way back. Any difficulties you think, as Director, but also more for the field at this time and during all of your tenures.
Gillis: The challenges that are facing OVC at this time, I think I have to look back at what happened on September 11th and trying to get the Federal agencies to coordinate their activities and provide services rapidly to victims in a mass violence incident. Also we find that there are a lot of services that are being provided at the grassroots level. There are organizations and, uh, kind of mom and pop operations out there that have been providing services to victims for many, many years and in the past they've kind of been overlooked mostly because they don't have the ability to, uh, write the grants, write the kind of grants that will get them the funding. So the challenge to me is to reach out to those organizations and try and get them coordinated, try to make sure that they keep on providing those services because it's invaluable to the victims. I know it's used a lot by law enforcement. I think you can go to most, uh, police department in the USA and ask them who are the people that you will go to if you have an abandoned child or an abused child and all the other services are closed for the night and they can probably point to an individual family or an organization that will take care of those until they're able to put them into the hands of the right agency during business hours.
Sigmon: You know, it's ironic, John, because that was one of the impetuses for the Task Force. That was one of the ways we got legislation across was talking about the small organizations that didn't have any help, that were doing out of their garage or their spare bedroom or something else to help other people. I mean that was one of the real speaking points and it's amazing to hear you say it's still an issue because then these big organizations came sweeping in with their very glossy, you know, portfolios and did take a lot of that early funding and that was an issue we had right away is how do we get it out to the people that are doing some of the real grunt work out there for the... that don't close at five o'clock. Just like what you said so it's... it's kind of scary to know that that's still going on. (laughter) Not... not unbelievable, but hey, okay.
Adams: Our biggest challenge, well there were a number of them. In terms of the field across the states, it was providing adequate training to people at a time when there was a huge culture change going on. Most people in the field were redefining their roles. So, for example, when you provided children services instead of doing it police officer here and then a prosecutor, people were partnering up, coming together in children's advocacy centers, interviewing kids once instead of twelve different times, bringing everybody together, working as a team, as a partner in one place. At the time I came in, there were a handful of children's advocacy centers. When I left, there were over 300. So it was a new way of really seeing the system through the eyes of victims, through the eyes of kids and then providing a response that was victim-friendly, which cut down on the number of interviews and ensured coordination. Correction officials,you know, there was a huge culture change there as well. Instead of just focusing on the offender, they brought victims into the system so that victim impact panels were held in prisons and juvenile detention facilities so that those offenders could hear the voices of victim, put a human face on crime, they would reach out to victims when an offender was released, there was notification, there was a whole change, police officers instead of just going out with another police officer to domestic violence call, their partners became social workers.
There was a change in culture. A change in, if you will, you know, the whole... the whole field in terms of definitions of jobs and how people perceived themself within the field. So, our biggest job was providing the training of the promising practices and what was working and emanating it around the country while at the same time creating greater sensitivity within the Federal system, which lagged so far behind.
Sigmon: You know, it's interesting because by the time I left OVC, we had clearly focused from establishing a floor of operation to looking at quality. And the issues that you were... you were able to get beyond... you were able to start at the issue of quality of services and how to integrate services better. When I got to OVC we were making our first grants and it's hard sometimes to remember that it wasn't that long ago. 15 years ago, when I started, we had, I think, 39 states that had victim compensation programs. We had a bunch of states that didn't even have a comp program and then we... so we offered this money...
Haight: They're bankrupt.
Sigmon: Yeah and those that did were, had long backlogs, they were inadequately funded, people couldn't, some of them were pro-rating their awards. I think the average award was like $1200 or something like that. Even in a catastrophic injury it was maybe a few thousand. So one of the biggest challenges was to take this incentive money that was created with the fund and to bring all the states into full operation with crime victim compensation programs. And believe it or not when I left not even all the states yet, I mean Maine was still working on its legislation in 1992 to bring them into the crime victim compensation programs. And, but the, and the money went from, just in the years that I was there, the comp programs initially had something like $23 million and by the time I left they were getting $46 million. With this Federal funding they expanded the kinds of services or the types of expenses that they were willing to pay for we were able to create, which was really one of the vision of VOCA's, is greater consistency.
You know, they used to deny domestic violence victims because they cohabited with the perpetrator and, you know, heaven forbid if some of the money might actually come and into the hands of the perpetrator because, maybe he was still there. They didn't used to include domestic violence or, excuse me, drunk driving. We had to define VOCA to expand, so that those victims were not excluded from compensation across the board.
Haight: That was a good expansion. That was a good one.
Sigmon: And then on the assistance side, you know, our theme was promoting services for all victims. There's no doubt that the three priority area victims in VOCA, on the assistance side, were domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse were those kinds of issues that the grassroots were addressing and they needed the support for. And I think something like, 90% of the money went to NGO's when the money first got started but to expand it so that other types of victims would also have services was also a challenge. To bring in, and they way we did it was an amendment that... that talked about underserved populations, folks who... for whom the services were not readily available like survivors of homicide victims, drunk driving victims and other types of...
Gillis: I think both of those were tremendously underserved.
Haight: Victims with disabilities.
Sigmon: They were tremendously underserved and so doing that is, that was... those were very important improvements as the... once people got a little less secure. They were insecure for a long time. The people weren't sure just what this fund was going to generate and the second year collections went down so the victim assistance programs I think their awards went down by $8 or $10 million from the first year to the second year. So you had a state like California got a million dollars less in assistance money its second year of grants, the year that I got there in '87 and people were not that happy about this fund and its unpredictable levels of funding. But fortunately ever since then, it went up, and it's gone up consistently ever since because there was a huge amount of attention and Aileen really capitalized on a huge amount of attention paid to reinforcing the U.S. Attorneys for pressing for these fines and improving collections.
Seymour: Any challenges, Judge Haight?
Haight: (laughter) Oh, no. You know, I was thinking ours weren't... it wasn't the money, it was the issue. It was getting the victims' issue out and after the Task Forces, I must admit, I mean it was a great help. I mean because the publicity about it was a lot. My husband used to call it Good Morning Lois, instead of Good Morning America. I'd get on just terrified, but talking about victims. But it was getting the issue out and I had to brief the Cabinet a couple of times. You know, I've been in court a long time but you have to brief the Cabinet on the event that... I was so nervous. All I kept thinking is there's only one forum and it's the President. That's all I have to focus on and I was briefing the Cabinet to get the Victims of Crime Act passed and the Crime Control Act. And the issue that came up, which I love, was Dave Stockman at the time was saying, "Mr. President, this is an entitlement, this is an entitlement." And I was going to answer and then the President said, "Well, wait a minute, Dave, are you saying that victims get themselves bashed over the head, go to the hospital and get sewn up so they can get money? Are you saying that?"
And I thought I don't have to say anything more. The President's got it and so he gave the okay for among, a lot of people wanting a lot of different things, he gave the okay to get the Victims of Crime Act. So that was a huge impetus. Then another big issue that came up was what are we going to give victims? I mean we all knew all the issues that had to be, the confidentiality, there were addresses and phone numbers that were obviously given to the defendant, all these awful things, couldn't testify at parole hearings, bail hearings, all of those things. But the issue that bothered me the most was is the criminal got all the therapy they wanted, the victim got none. And so we made it part of the Act that they had to compensate victims for therapy, for counseling for them. Who more needs it then the person that's been violated. And that was a huge issue to get across because again people have, you know, "Were you ever a therapist, Lois? You know, do you have a conflict of interest in this, you know, were you ever a victim?" you know. I was never a victim, I've never been a therapist but listening to these victims you knew that counseling and therapy for them, to help them get on with their lives was paramount. So that was a big issue so we made it a pre-requisite. The states did not get the money if they did not provide counseling for victims of crime. And that... that at that time was a huge issue. I mean it wasn't... are they getting it now, right?
Gillis: They're getting some of it, yes. But... but it's interesting that you should say that also because as I'm out talking to the grassroots organizations, it's the same issue. They're saying it's not the money, it's the issue that we're concerned about. It's the inmate who gets all of the therapy that he needs, he gets free medical treatment and the victims were getting nothing. So it's still not the amount of money that they're getting, it's the issue that they want to see addressed and they just want to make sure that the perpetrator is being held accountable or some kind of accountability.
Haight: Well that's where...
Gillis: Not how many dollars you can give me but...
Haight: Right. That's where you got to get on the judges too because they're, I mean that's for another day. We can talk about that but another issue that I think that I was really struck by is when we went around for the hearings, we had a very diverse task force. I mean none of us knew each other except I knew Frank Carrington, of course, who everybody did was a... a... really one of the fathers, a founding father of the victims' movement and along with NOVA, the National Organization of Victims Assistance, and I don't think we should go another minute without acknowledging Marlene Young and John Stein and the incredible work that they did in those early years when nobody else was doing it. But when we were going around doing the task force, we kept hearing people say something about family violence and we'd hear of the, you know, the beatings of the wives and, of course, as I said we had a very diverse task force. We had, you know, Reverend Pat Robertson, you know, and we had Ken Eickenberry, the Attorney General from Washington. We have lots of different views on whether family violence was a crime and whether that.
And I'll never forget, we were in San Francisco and President Bush was our main speaker, which I... I mean Vice President Bush at that time, which I was excited to, for the notoriety, for this, for the victims and we got this huge protest about people, about family violence and they started picketing in the back of the court, you know, when we had this big Task Force and here's the Vice President up there and everyone was saying, "Get the Marshals, get them." I'm going, "Wait, wait" and I jumped up and I ran up to the mike and I said, "Don't stop. Do not stop screaming about this. It's a crime. Do not stop. I promise you we will be back with something on family violence because it and of itself it's so big that we would not do justice to it in this Task Force." And it was just like, they all sat down. I said, "Keep your placards up. Don't stop your fight for this" and, you know, and the Vice President, to give him credit, was great. He goes, "Okay, don't stop. That's a good idea. Don't stop." (laughter) And it was great because we did get to come back with a task force on family violence and this Vice President came forward and helped us start it and it was wonderful. It was to focus on that issue.
Sigmon: It... that document just has been a Bible also since the President's task force. It, I still quote it um, when, because I do a lot of work now in... with victims in other countries. We have Americans who are victims of domestic violence and in many, many other countries it's not a crime and so I talk with our consular officers and say, "Well, you know we've only been doing this right about ten years now." Maybe... because we just... the Task Force report came out in '84. That's not very long.
Haight: Well, when we have an Attorney General that said victims of crime... victims of family violence, this is criminal activity, boy, the reverberations of that through everything and I'll tell you a staunch supporter, I actually was on the... on the three... the 700 Club three times. Pat Robertson asked me to talk about that very issue, which was a very big deal in those days because some people felt that the evangelical Christians or, I don't know, that churches and temples did not like to talk about that and I don't think they did. But his acceptance, his pushing of it, it gave a lot of credibility to be able to open that up which I really credit him a lot with understanding it and seeing it, too.
Adams: See I think the two of you really broke down a lot of the barriers and we were able in the '90s to take it to the next level. So, in '94 VAWA was passed, the Violence against Women Act, which provided a whole new source of funding for domestic violence victims which has changed every state and their ability to respond to domestic violence.
Haight: Did you give us that $10,000 per child? Which legislation gave that, which is so fabulous for counseling for children. Even children in the homes now in California, when there's not... when they didn't even witness it.
Adams: Yes. That's the Victim Compensation Program in the state.
Haight: That is so fabulous to have that as a resource.
Adams: Which does that and few other states do by the way. That is very important. I agree with you.
Haight: You were here... but didn't you...
Adams: But I want to mention the other thing that you proposed in back in your report which we, you know, were very active in and that was the Constitutional Amendment on Victims' Rights. The right to be informed, present and heard actually put into the Constitution. And I have to say that one of my proudest moments as OVC Director was when first the Attorney General embraced the idea. And I'll never forget sitting around a table at the Justice Department with all of the top officials there. There must have been 40 of us in the room and as we went around among those 40 people there were three of us who supported it. There was, you know, OVC and Bonnie Campbell, who headed the Violence Against Women Office, and the Associate Attorney General. Everybody else was opposed. But she made the decision to support it and later the President, you know, got up and supported it and that made, you know, a big difference, I think, in terms of moving that forward. We're still not there.
Haight: No we're not.
Adams: We're still not there but it's on everybody's agenda and one day... one day we're going to get there.
Sigmon: You know we tried... oh, go on. Go on, John.
Gillis: I was going to say I was so pleased last year at our Crime Victims' Rights that the President, President Bush, endorsed the specific language of the Constitutional Amendment.
Haight: That's a big step. It's a very big step.
Gillis: And we're planning to move forward with that.
Haight: You know we really didn't push it because we said let's give him a chance. Let's see if they will really follow this and people would say do you support and I said not at this time because I want to give people a chance and if they... (Tape Change)
OVC in terms of, it's 20 years old this year. What has been OVC's role in terms of leadership in the field and what you see as its accomplishment?
Haight: Well, first of all, part of leadership in the field, I think, we're really fortunate to have had leaders that really took the helm and, like the people on this panel today, that really cared and that's just, you've got to understand that's pretty rewarding in itself for me to see that continuing on. But the things that I think were most important is not only giving a voice to victims, who just simply didn't have a voice, but giving a voice to victims at really important stages of proceedings. Giving a voice to victims after they had been intimidated and harassed, giving a voice to victims that they want to speak at sentencing. You know, I do a lot of work with judges and judges that still don't allow some victims to speak at sentencing. To give a voice to victims, uh, in terms of, uh, bail hearings and in terms of parole and to listen to them. And I think the most important thing for judges, and I do focus because I've been a judge for ten years, is that the judge knows the consequences of the crime on the victim before they pass sentence and this simply was never happening. And since most cases are plea bargained, they don't have a trial to see it. They don't know exactly. Now they know and so I think the voice for the victims has been the most important. I think the help financial, absolutely. The... all the therapy we can give them, absolutely. But for them to have a voice and to be a party in this system now, I think that's the most important thing that's happened.
Seymour: Okay. Jane, OVC leadership, accomplishments?
Sigmon: I think when I was there one of the things that I'm the most proud of in terms of leadership is opening the door and shining light on the complete lack of victim assistance services in Indian country. And it didn't, it was not my plan to develop Indian Country programs. It started, it was one case after another after another, looking at large scale child molestation cases on one reservation. One man who had taken it upon himself to live there as a remedial reading teacher, victimizing among the most vulnerable children in the United States for years, eight years, 141 children and within a short time later another case, 200 children on a neighboring reservation and another case, 30 children. In the course of a couple of years there were probably 1,000 child sexual abuse victims in Indian country that we identified. And when I started, I went out there in the Spring and met with some of the families I realized there was no assistance whatsoever for them. There was no place for parents to turn to ask questions. No place for children to get counseling. No place to deal with the adolescents who eight years earlier were molested and were starting to molest younger children.
There was nothing and so we first started an emergency program. The Federal Emergency Victim Assistance for victims of Federal crime where there were simply no services available. But it was very clear that dealing with this on a case-by-case basis, we literally flew a therapist from, uh, onto the Hopi Reservation for several months to begin to provide some emergency assistance. And I was pretty surprised. I just expected Indian Health Services or the Bureau of Indian Affairs was going to take care of it and it turned out they didn't. All their money was allocated for other purposes. There was no money for these purposes. So we developed the emergency assistance money. Then we decided, I took what was the little million dollars that we had for Federal victims and made the development of services on Indian Reservations the highest priority for that pot of money. We developed the end, we developed it... what we decided was we couldn't do this case-by-case, we had to do it systematically. So we made grant funds available to develop victim assistance programs on the Reservations and within about a year we had 50 victim assistance programs, domestic violence, sexual assault, DUI, child sexual abuse treatment programs. And then we even got the Children's Justice Act amended so that some of those monies could go to Indian Reservations so that they could develop inter-disciplinary teams to respond to child abuse cases.
Sponsored the first, one of the neatest things I will ever remember is standing up in front of a few hundred Native Americans at the first Indian Nations Justice for Victims of Crime Conference in Rapid City, South Dakota and... and having those people, I mean they were like who, what... they weren't quite sure why they were there and to tell them that we're going to make some money available, and then we had more applications than we could possibly fund but gradually we made a difference. And there were scores of programs and then the states used some of their own money because they designated Indian Tribes as underserved populations and it wasn't just the Federal Victims' money but we needed that money to seed the... seed that whole approach and get it started because there was nobody willing to put any funds into that. I think that's probably, that is the biggest accomplishment during the time that I was there. The other thing is I would say the partnership with the National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards.
I mean, we recognized to bring those states along to develop their compensation programs and to not just get them there but to help them, the more advance states to share information about how to process claims and how to do it in a way that's sensitive and expeditious both. So we gave the grant to Dan Eddy in the National Association in 1988 and I'm pleased to see, I think that grant is still going on and I hope you will continue because it's such an important vehicle for information sharing to advance all compensation programs. It's... it's raising that bar. Those are a couple of things.
Haight: Is Dan Eddy still there?
Sigmon: He's still there. He still is. (everybody talking at once)
Gillis: And he still has the grant.
Sigmon: And he still has the grant.
Haight: Then again, he's a doer. That's great to hear that. That's great to hear that.
Sigmon: It's a unique service.
Haight: Who provides the law enforcement though on the Indian Reservations? Is that local law enforcement?
Sigmon: Well if it's a felony, FBI has jurisdiction.
Haight: Oh, for the felony, FBI. How about for misdemeanors?
Sigmon: Yeah. Misdemeanors -- the Indian, the Tribal Police and then the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Haight: And who determines? Who determines whether it's a misdemeanor or felony?
Sigmon: It's the nature of the crime. I mean...
Haight: Well, I mean you have a burglary. (indiscernible -- talking over)
Gillis: And then there are some wobblers. (laughter)
Sigmon: Some that are wobblers. That's exactly right. Yeah.
Gillis: That's when we refer it to as in the law enforcement business.
Adams: Right, right. I think the thing that has remained unique about OVC, you know, that spans all of us is that it is within Government on the cutting edge, always an advocate, always trying to disseminate victims' voices within the system whether we're using them to train everybody in the Federal system, which was one of our great challenges, really to train the victim witness coordinators within the FBI, first to get them to appoint them and then to train them, really to train the U.S. Attorneys on victims' issues by using victims' voices, as you said. That was very important but also remaining on the cutting edge because within the Justice Department itself there aren't that many people who traditionally have come from the crime victims' field and so you need to remain constantly vigilant, you know. You need to be as vigilant as all of, as... as we were and there are struggles going on today which are still very important. One of those struggles is the cap on the rime Victims' Fund.
We know today that we are reaching only a small percentage of the crime victims through the services that we have in our communities and through the victim compensation programs. Even the best programs are only reaching maybe ten percent of the victims in terms of victims' comp. So we need to continue to advocate and to bring the national organizations together whether it's NOVA or Mothers' against Drunk Driving, or parents of murdered children together to advocate, to keep the stream of funding coming. I don't think there should be a cap on the Crime Victims' Fund. I think we need to continue to provide expanding services. There are many victims. If you're a disabled victim or a deaf-blind victim or you... you don't speak English... there are many victims out there which don't have the opportunities to have the kinds of services that should be provided.
Haight: You know and not just the services. It's their treatment in the system.
Adams: Yes, exactly.
Haight: You know if somebody's old, I find judges screaming at them, you know, they're just, you know, they're not deaf. They may walk slow or, you know, so it's not just... it's the sensitivity with which they're approached not just necessarily...
Adams: And then there are the while collar crime victims, many of whom are elderly, victims of telemarketing who receive very few, if any, services at all. They're sort of continually discriminated against by the system. So we need to really, I think, guard the Crime Victims' Fund, work together to try to remove the cap and spread the word that even though we have come miles and taken many giant steps forward, the majority of crime victims are still not served today the way they should be in our country.
Haight: And you know the laws are not always there. It's not always in fact what's in law.
Sigmon: Right. That's right.
Haight: I mean that's... I mean we just think because we passed a law that that's it.
Adams: Well that's usually the case. We've all seen working with crime victims that the laws are in place but very often they're not honored.
Haight: Oh my.
Gillis: And there's been a lot of talk about the field and what we can do to help them but we spent a lot of time on that and one of the things that I am looking at now, you know, as we talk with each other amongst ourselves in the Beltway, we kind of forget about what they really need and talking about the field, we're talking about at the grassroots level. So what I'm trying to do is get back in touch with those individuals at the grassroots level and I'm finding out from them that money is not the issue. It's not the entire issue and you mentioned the cap. While I agree that the level on the cap should be raised, I'm opposed to removing it entirely, simply because it may eliminate the consistency that we may have from year to year. I would be in favor of making sure that there is enough left in the reserve so that we can fund the programs the coming year at the same level we did at this year and then if the fund does not grow at least we're able to provide some funding to the states so that they can continue to give funds to their constituents. So I'm opposed to a complete removal of the cap where it should be whether or not it... it ought to be set at two-thirds or three-quarters or whatever. I think there ought to be enough left in that reserve fund to fund the states at the same level for the next year.
Seymour: John, you've been in the field since Lois started and come across this lot also but what do you see as OVC's leadership role or accomplishments since twenty years ago exactly?
Gillis: Oh, there've been a lot of accomplishments in the past twenty years and I have to go back to the time when I was a law enforcement officer, which was about the same time that the task force came into existence and I can recall that when we went to a rape victim's residence and we talked about treatment, we would take them to the hospital, get the whatever we needed for the physical evidence and a few weeks later the rape victim would get a bill from the hospital...
Adams: Exactly, exactly.
Gillis: And get a bill for the ambulance. So had it not been for the task force that started out doing this these things would have never changed. So yes, there's been a tremendous change in the services that victims are receiving.
Haight: Can you imagine after getting raped and sent a bill for the rape kits?
Gillis: For the rape kit and the ambulance.
Haight: If they ever find the person.
Gillis: And the transportation and the ambulance.
Haight: And you were asked to keep it. You forgot some of them were asked to keep it. Can you imagine the chain of evidence on that one, huh? (laughter)
Sigmon: Today the problem is that the DNA evidence, if it is taken, and you wait six months or longer... the backlog is huge. Huge.
Adams: DNA analysis is terrible. Yeah. It's longer in a lot of states.
Haight: I remember one victim actually went to the hospital, was sent home in her night... in the gown, hospital gown because they had to keep the clothes, had to pay for her taxi and then was sent the kit later and then I'll never forget and the nurse going, "Well, did you know him?" in the hospital. She said, "I was home alone in my house sleeping when he broke in." Oh, my, there have been a lot of changes.
Gillis: So, yeah. A lot of changes and all because of the work that you did with the Task Force.
Haight: Oh, well there's so many before me. I get embarrassed every time you say that because there was so many people in the field before me, you know, caring.
Gillis: And the Directors who came after you who saw that some of the things were implemented that had been suggested or recommended from the Task Force. So, the changes have been great. We have still have a long way to go but we're working at it and hopefully I'll see some changes while I'm in as Director.
Seymour: What is the future and we'll start with you and go back. The future of OVC and the future of the field you'll all be able to address that in your individual interviews, but thinking sort of as a group. You want to go?
Gillis: When you ask where do I want to go, I always avoid that answer and the reason why I avoid that answer is because my concern is only about the victims so my future is the better treatment for victims. I don't have any aspirations or want to leave any kind of a legacy. All I want to do is see that victims are treated much better when I leave as Director than they were when I first came in.
Sigmon: And I'm sure they will be.
Adams: I think that's all of our hope. I think, you know, we would probably all answer that question in somewhat the same way which would be, I mean what we would hope for in the future are really comprehensive and consistent and very compassionate victims' services and rights for all crime victims. I mean that's a huge goal and it's going to take us years to get there. Even today you look at, you know, are our victims' services comprehensive. Well, in fact, in most cases they aren't. We have 300 children's advocacy centers, which are comprehensive, but most communities don't have that. We have Jacksonville with its comprehensive victim services for all crime victims where you can go to one location and, you know, get your compensation and have your interview by the police and the DA. The kind of partnership approach for all victims but most communities don't have that. We have a long way to go but we have the base for getting there and I think the vision to get there and the support to get there and we just need to keep pushing.
Sigmon: Yeah. The future I... I yeah. I'm so focused on what happened before because I think past is prologue and I do think that quality is the quality of services is what I thought was the future because we, our goal was to establish this base of services that everybody at least got some services but we're really not there. Even... even though, you know, I mean $64 million, $600 million in the span of the fund over fifteen years' time. It's kind of inconceivable to think that with that much more money we still have such a small percentage of compensation victims receiving compensation and I think in a lot of states it's inadequate compensation, you know. We get to the point where everybody's got a program but the, you know, $5,000 doesn't pay for a funeral, in some states it's $2,000. It's not adequate. So we need to be thinking about quality, comprehensive and... and integrated services. That we used to talk about the patchwork quilt and what we really wanted was the seamless system so that people could go from one phase of the criminal justice system to the next and not get dropped from the investigation to the prosecution to the correction side of things and we really are not there yet.
It, uh... we are... we've definitely made progress from the time that... that VOCA really was intended for three types of victims, you know, those were the... those were the movers, to get it going. But, you know, there are so, we've, our awareness of the needs of other victims has really grown a lot and, you know, we need a place so that all victims have a place to turn and we're just not there yet and I hope that's the case. Terrorism is a new issue which has complicated things because of this scale of it, the impact of it in our, we're... we have a slightly disorganized response as a country to it in terms of assistance and compensation. More than slightly disorganized. Whether it happens here or abroad. So we have a lot of ways to go, a long way to go in terms of improving services with regard to terrorist victim, terrorism victims. I'll turn to Lois.
Haight: I think that there's still some issues that are really significant. Most courthouses do not have a victim witness waiting room. You still have the victim sitting next to, you know, a killer brother, Spike, while they're waiting to testify. I mean you still have a lot of grounds for intimidation and harassment and breeding for terror for victims. Many times I'm in court, the prosecutors asking the victim a question. "Where do you live?" I'm going, "Wait. That's not relevant. (laugh) I am protecting the victim's address." Oh, you know, I mean it's like these things happen all the time, the insensitivity. Calling the victim's counselor up to talk about issues that we have now made confidential and nobody objects. I mean there's just a lot of things. And I still say that the victim impact statement is something that is so important. A lot of victims would use it if they were really informed about it. Some of them aren't. It is a fact that even some of the judges don't pay a lot of attention to. And our child victims... what started out... what came up so high in the Victims' Task Force was how awful we treated child victims and not only how awful we treated them, how we absolutely thought so little of their crime.
We had, and that's why we started out with this one book I have which I'm really proud of. We went and did a study on child molestations and had a conference. I'll tell you a kind of cute story. We had a Attorney General Smith who was a civil attorney, not a criminal attorney like... when Attorney General Meese came in was, had been a prosecutor like I'd been years ago, but when I said, you know, "I'd like to have a conference on the great hall of justice. I want it right there where those two great new draped figures of justice up there," and he goes, "Oh, that's great, Lois, go ahead and what's it going to be on?" And I said, "Well, it's going to be on child molestation" and he went, "You're what, going to have what, where?" And I... .I said, "Willie this is so important." "Well okay, okay." And I said, "Would you speak?" and he said, "You know, I think I'm busy." (laughter) But luckily, I mean, but he did let me have it there and he let me have all the press we needed and he... he just... but it was that understanding that was just a lot of people simply didn't understand how horrible child molestation is. How prevalent it was and how diminimous was any kind of response to it. We heard people, "Oh, gee, they went to jail for five days...oh, they had to go on probation for five years after several years of molesting somebody." It was just awful.
So I think that the changes that we have made now, we're just now in our state, getting real sensitive to child victims. We're just now having what you talked about the interview centers and now we have to work on getting people that can ask the right questions, you know, you get somebody trained. We're just now starting to talk about ways to have the courtroom more relaxed for children and have a child hearsay rule now for child testifying. So there's just so much to be done and so much that's in law is not happening in fact and it, and we've got to be vigilant and watch that. I mean that's your job, John. You've got to snootful of a job to do. We'll go through that Task Force and I'll tell you what's not happening. Okay? But it looks good. It looks good but there's still a lot to be done.
Gillis: And those are the things that I'm hearing from the victims.
Haight: I know.
Gillis: They're talking about notification, you know. Not... not hearing about the arraignment, not hearing about preliminary hearings. They're not being notified when someone's being released and if you can imagine, and of course you can, a rape victim who comes into your court and she finally has the courage to come to court and testify and all the sudden the perpetrator is released on bail or whatever and she has no idea that he's been released. So these are the kinds of things that they're talking about.
Haight: Another issue: continuances, you know, what age of the case. That's the name of the game for the defense. Get that case so old the victim's going to die, get sick or move away. To make people sensitive about that. Not to continue a case when the victims come in to testify and make them go through that terror and that horror of having to testify. Oh, there's a lot.
Gillis: I had one that... I had one victim at one of our roundtable discussions tell us that, you know, they ask everybody whether or not a continuance will fit into their schedule. They ask the prosecutor, they'll ask the defense attorney, they ask the defendant and nobody bothers to ask the victim. How does your schedule fit in?
Adams: That's why we need a Constitutional Amendment, you know, which has that in it.
Gillis: That's right. That's right.
Sigmon: You know that's about the only thing left because it's not like we need a lot more victims' rights laws. It's the gap between what the law says and what's being done that has to be addressed.
Haight: But what are the teeth going to be in it to enforce the Amendment? What are... what's the downside, if they don't follow it? We've got to have a downside to this. I mean for judges you've got a pretty good downside because we've got these commissions on judicial performance and that do hold them accountable, thank goodness. But for other, we don't have a lot of downside for bad treatment.
Adams: Well, the downside is ultimately, in the case of judges, the electric, you know, and publicizing those judges who do not follow, if we have a Constitutional Amendment, in that case the Constitution.
Gillis: The downside at this point, I think is that we don't have enough attorneys, that we have very few attorneys who are willing to go in and represent the victim and that's how we got so many defendants' rights. There were attorneys who were representing the defendant pro bono. We don't have that for victims and we won't have it until there's something in the Constitution that addresses it.
Haight: Well, and we have to think real clearly about how we put that in place because I don't want this to be a trial attorney's initiative where they're going to get paid and all the money's going to go to the trial attorney.
Gillis: No, no.
Haight: You know we started this whole thing with a system that served the lawyers, the judges and the defendants and remember ill-treated, misused and ignored, the victim and we've still got a lot of work to do to put that balance in the system in real... in reality.
Seymour: I'm going to, in the interest of time, I'm going to ask each of you to give a one minute closing or advice to the field. I think people would love to hear what you would advise us as a field today and in the future. Lois, do you want to start this time?
Haight: Keep fighting. Keep fighting. It's important. There are so many things as I said before that are in law but are not really happening. Be vigilant, find out what's going on in your community, the court watches are wonderful, have people do court watches. They were very instrumental in changing behavior when people sat in court and reported what they saw. Be as supportive as you can of the victims' groups in your community, but keep the fight because when we slack off, when we think it's done, when we go off to something we think is more important, it all slips back. It's just human nature.
Sigmon: I think I'd say you have to be in it for the long haul because you have to know going into it that change, real change, takes a huge amount of time and a long term press. It doesn't happen quickly and when you're working case after case after case and you feel like the system isn't changing, sometimes you're too close to it to see that, in fact, change gradually is taking place but, so you have to keep your eye on the horizon so that you're always looking at where it is... where the system is, where, how it's doing today and what it's going to be doing while at the same time you're knuckled in really down hard assisting each and every individual victim that you come in contact with. When I was at OVC I used to tell a story a lot when I was speaking about, you know, it's the starfish story. In fact, I had a couple people give me starfishes when I was, when I left. It's the one about a guy who's walking on the beach and the tide has brought in a huge number of starfishes and he's walking along and he's picking them up and he's throwing them back into the water and somebody who looks at... who looks at him and walks up to him and says, "What are you doing?" and this is a... a beach full of starfish and he says, "Don't you understand you've never going to make a dent in this? You're never going to make a difference" is what he says. And the guy picks down, turns... bends down and he picks up a starfish and he throws that one and he says, "Well, it makes a difference to this one." So you have to remember as you work with individual victims that it makes a difference in every individual case but you have to be in it for the long haul and keep your eye on the horizon for the big changes.
Adams: And I would say two things real quickly. The first is whoever's in the field, whether it's a police officer or a prosecutor or a counselor, really listen to what crime victims are going through, even today, because what they're going through is probably not just their individual experience. You can probably magnify it by a hundred or even a thousand and if there are problems that you identify from that one crime victim, become an activist, turn it into public policy, go out and change a law, go visit the Chief District Attorney or the Chief Judge and complain, you know, turn it into a policy or a program or a law and make a difference for others. And the second thing I would say -- and this is, you know, a story that I heard from a crime victim -- a father whose son was killed in East Los Angeles, a victim of gang violence, told me his son was perfect in every way. He was a straight A student, his father studied with him every day, read together, he was the best basketball player in his high school, but the father looked at me and he said, "You know, I forgot about one other thing." He said, "I forgot about one thing. I forgot about all the other kids." And I think as we advocate for victims, we also have to advocate for all the other kids to make sure that those kids have a healthy start, a strong start in life, that they can be the best that they can be. We need to advocate to keep kids at an early age out of the criminal justice system. And part of the way to do that is to bring them in touch with the voices of crime victims so they can hear what it's like and interact with, you know, the people who have been victimized. Those would be my two suggestions.
Gillis: You know, we have to have some interaction with the people that we serve when, and I'm talking about the people in the field now. You have to have some interaction with your constituents or your clients and I think the best way to look at it is... is when we look at the medical profession, you know, they have some of the best universities and best medical schools and every now and then, you'll see a survey come out that's been done by one of the institutions and it's talking to the patients and all the things that the medical profession thought they were doing right when they look at the list of things that the patients are telling them, it's entirely different from what they thought the patients wanted. So we in the victim service field and those who are in the victim service field need to stop thinking that we have all the answers and every now and then go out and do a reality check, go out and talk to the people that we serve and find out whether or not what we're doing is really making a difference for them and making them happy.
Seymour: I'm so honored to be in this crowd.
Haight: Thank you. This is great.
|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.|