An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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John Dussich, Ph.D.
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Seymour: Good afternoon, John. I'm Anne Seymour, the Director of the OVC Oral History Project, and I'd like to first of all thank you for participating in this project.
Dussich: It's my pleasure. Thank you very much, also.
Seymour: And for the record I'm going to ask you to say and spell your name and if you could tell us your current title and affiliation.
Dussich: My name is John Dussich, J-O-H-N, D-U-S-S-I-C-H. My title is Professor of Criminology and Victimology at the Tokiwa University in Mito, Japan.
Seymour: Great, thank you so much. I'm gonna start by asking you, John, why and how did you first get involved in the crime victims' movement?
Dussich: Well, it's interesting. I, as a graduate student at the Florida State University back in 1962, I had the privilege of being a student of Stephen Schafer who was a victimologist and criminologist from Hungary, one of the early victimologists. And he first spoke about victimology in his class on criminological theory. And this was the first time that he ever gave a lecture in this country and we became friends after that.
Seymour: And could you tell me what year that was?
Dussich: Yeah, that was 1962.
Seymour: Wow. And back in 1962 and if you could be a little linear with me sort of looking at the past 40 years, can you describe what the field of victims' rights and services was, including a bit of the context of the eras, the '60s, the '70s and so on?
Dussich: Well, the words "victims' rights" and "victim assistance" really was not part of our dialogue. I mean we had, those were words that came much later in time. At that... at that point most of us were in what was called criminology. There were only three schools that as I recall that even offered degrees in criminology, Florida State University being one of them, Berkeley in California and the University of Michigan as I recall. So it was really an unusual thing to hear about victimology at that point.
Seymour: And when people talked about victims within the context of criminology, what were, how... how were... how was victimology presented or victim issues, the basic issues?
Dussich: At that point, victimology was very much about crime victims only. Victimology was primarily trying to understand the dynamics between the victim and the offender. Mostly looking at the perspective of how does the victim assist in the criminal justice process and it was about culpability, to what extent does the victim's behavior impact on the culpability of the offender?
Seymour: And could you give me... give me an example of that in terms of how it was taught?
Dussich: Well, it wasn't taught as a subject. It was only part of a criminology theory class. That this is something that has been brought up and at that time I remember the name Stephen Schafer mentioned in his class and that was Benjamin Mendolsohn, the Romanian lawyer who had started even as early as 1937 writing about the role of the victim in the defense. He was a defense attorney in Romania. And it was kind of new stuff. It really was not in many textbooks. I think the only book that had been out at that point in time was one written by Hans von Hentig. And he wrote a book called, The Criminal And His Victim. And it wasn't really a victimology book. He just had a chapter that he devoted to the relationship.
Seymour: And if you were going to sort of fast forward over the 40 years, how did that change in terms of both criminology offerings and also victimology, undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and that type of thing?
Dussich: Well, we have made giant advances. The shift has occurred and there is now much more of a balance then there has been in the, since the past. I think it's fair to say that we are much closer to considering both the offender and the victim at the same time. And as we move closer to restorative justice, which I think is the future of where we're going we... we have seen tremendous strides, especially in this country. I must say that the advances in the other countries have not been as vast or as complete as they... they have been in this country.
Seymour: And, John, if in 1962 someone told you 40 years from now there'd be over 10,000 victims' organizations in the U.S. and 32,000 laws, what would you have responded?
Dussich: That would have been pretty hard to believe at that point. There was as I recall tremendous amount of resistance-- especially from prosecutors, excuse me, especially from defense attorneys. A lot of people felt that we just didn't need more bleeding hearts worrying about victims. We had enough worrying about offenders. I can remember the early days of trying to convince people how important it would be to provide special programs for victims. And it would've really been an incredible kind of thing for people to accept.
Seymour: I'd like to ask you now, John, about your pioneering areas of victim assistance and I think there were two I'd like you to address the first one being the early development of the victim assistance field in the United States who were very involved with NOVA. And talk about that and then we'll get into some of the international issues that you're now currently renowned for. Start with NOVA and their early days.
Dussich: It's interesting how it all came about. I, after I got my Master's Degree and I'd met Stephen Schafer, I left academia and went into the military for four years as a military police officer. I pretty much kept working in the field of criminology in... in the applied way. I was really in law enforcement at that stage. And after four years I got out and went back to get my Doctorate Degree at Florida State University. And during that time I was asked to come on board with the State Planning Agency, in the Governor's Office, in Tallahassee, Florida. And at that time I was working primarily in corrections. That was really my specialty. And on a trip back from Miami, Florida, where I had been working on the Miami Jail Program, we were putting a lot of money, the LEAA money at that time was focused on new ideas. And on the flight back to Tallahassee I remember thinking, "It is amazing how much money and time and energy we were putting in to improve the plight of offenders.
We fed them. We were educating them. We were training them. When they left, we gave them a new suit of clothes and money for their spending and a bus ticket. And for the victim we did zero. And so I started to write down some things on a piece of paper. And by the time the plane landed in Tallahassee I had the rough concept for what I then call "the victim ombudsman." And I was really excited about it. I thought this... this is something that, you know, we could put into the state plan. And so I sent this rough outline to Stephen Schafer who had since left Florida State and he was elated. I was so surprised at his response. And he said, "This is really something... something special. And I'd like you to present it at the first International Symposium on Victimology to be held in a month in Israel." My gosh, I was really overwhelmed and I tried to get permission from the governor's office to go there. They wouldn't hear of it. They thought, you know, the victim was not part of what my responsibility was. I was a corrections planner and there were no other persons in the agency who had the responsibility of working for or with victims.
So I, it was really a difficult thing to get even permission to go and I ended up going and paying for the trip myself. In retrospect that was probably one of the best decisions I ever made. And I presented this paper. It was called "The Victim Ombudsman." And much to my delight and shock, the session went on for a day and a half just talking about this "victim ombudsman concept." And I was really empowered by this experience as you can imagine. And when I came back to Florida, I was able to put this concept, but I changed the term, I changed the word to "advocate" instead of "ombudsman." And I put it into the 1974 Florida State Comprehensive Plan. And it had to be in there in order for us to fund it in subsequent years. And so the first year thereafter which was 1974, I was able to convince the Chief of Police of Fort Lauderdale by the name of Leo Callahan to accept this project as an experimental project. And they were able to put some local money into it and that's where the first victim advocate project started. This was in 1974, January.
Seymour: And when you started your program, once people heard you had a program, John, what happened?
Dussich: Well, the interesting thing is that the two first victim advocates were the most unlikely people to be victim advocates in retrospect. One person was a... a, really an advertising executive who had just retired to Fort Lauderdale. And the other person was a woman who was a daughter of an FBI agent and a good friend of the chief, Chief Leo Callahan. And so here were these two people kind of the odd couple and they were struggling as to what to do with this victim advocate project. There were no other examples of victim assistance and so they were kind of feeling their way around. Well, the advertising executive kept acting as like an advertising exec and every time someone would ask him about this project, he'd duplicate my paper that I had presented in Israel. And this thing spread all over Florida and across the rest of the country. And it was that point that I, and this is really serendipitous because I was working on my dissertation at the time and I got a fellowship to go to LEAA in the Department of Justice.
And while I was there I convinced them that we... we have something special going in Florida and could, wouldn't they fund a kind of workshop on this topic. And a woman by the name of Jeannie Neidemeyer and another woman Janet Hartle who were working in the LEAA office in Washington, DC, con, were convinced and they were able to get the funding and we did a three-day workshop on the Victim Assistance Program, the Victim Advocate Program as it was called, right there in Fort Lauderdale. And that was the first time that we had a kind of national conference of about 30 or 40 people. And it was dynamite. It was magic to share this information with people who have also been working in different aspects of victim assistance. I call it "the victim advocate feeling" because it was so electrifying to... to find someone that you could share this stuff with because there were no other forms where this was ever going on. And that's where I began to think about we really do need an organization, a national organization that could be a reoccurring event, a forum if you will, where we can talk about these issues, share them. But also have... have one voice, one national voice to speak about victims and to continue tthe growth of the victim movement.
And shortly thereafter I came up with a concept for NOVA and the acronym and the logo, and it was in 1975 that I received a phone call from California. A fellow by the name of Jim Rowland and another one, another gentleman by the name of Todd Bacigalupi and they were going to try to put on a conference in California about victim assistance and wouldn't I help them. And I said I would be delighted to, on one condition if we can call this the Second National Conference and if they would let me launch this organization that I was telling them about. And so it was to be held in Fresno, California, in April of 1975, excuse me, in April of 1976. And that was a very magic year, 1976, because earlier that month in the earlier part of April I had met Marlene Young for the first time in Colorado Springs. We were both on a small program that was being hosted by the National District Attorneys' Association, no, it was the National County, the National County Association Regional Meeting and we both spoke about victim issues.
And then later that month I wanted to create the first executive committee of this organization. And so I remembered her and she, and her work in Oregon, so I called her up and added her to this group of about twenty people that I had selected. I wanted them to be heterogeneous. I wanted to have people from all, all perspec, persuasions and I didn't want it to be just one small group of people with a very narrow focus. And it worked out beautifully. When we finally met in Fresno in late April, there was that victim advocate feeling again. Everyone was again, just so elated to be able to share this information and the conference was a great success. And we were able to elect officers and I became the first executive director of NOVA even though we had no money and I was doing all this as a volunteer, we kept going like that and that was how NOVA started.
Seymour: Great. Thank you so much for that overview because I think that's one of the critical things we were looking for. Are you ready to talk a little about international issues?
Dussich: Sure, be happy to.
Seymour: And I don't know where you want to begin. I'm just gonna follow your lead.
Dussich: The interesting thing is that in 19 uh, 1973, the year that I thought of this... this whole victim advo, ombudsman, victim advocate thing. As I said it was the first Symposium on Victimology in Israel. And at that... at that event it was decided that we would have this kind of a symposium in a different country every three years. And so the next host of the one to be held in 1976 was my old professor Stephen Schafer. The sad thing is that he died a month before the symposium was to take place. And his students and other colleagues there at the university, Northeastern in Boston actually did the symposium and did a wonderful job, but it was a sad event. And the next one after that, the Third International Symposium was held in 1979 in Muenster, Germany, hosted by Hans Schneider. And at this third symposium we decided that we wanted to have an organization. And so we formed the World Society of Victimology. And they selected me as the first secretary general and I served for six years, two terms. And was, it was a special kind of a situation because at that point I also accepted a job as a researcher in Germany.
And that meant I had to leave the United States and I had to leave NOVA. Well, I left it in good hands. Things were happening very quickly here in the states with NOVA. We had moved from my bedroom (laugh) with volunteers to Washington, DC, where all the action was happening. And we had a young man took over as the secretary, as the executive director for six months and then Marlene Young took on the job with some very minimal funding from LEAA. So I was in Europe at that time and working to make this World Society of Victimology a reality with Hans Schneider and Gerd Kirchhoff. And luckily the three of us were all in Germany and we were able to coordinate and create the organization that it is today. We still have the symposia every three years. We have had them in countries like, Tokyo, Japan, and Kyoto, Zagreb, Yugoslavia and Adelaide, Australia, in Rio De Janeiro. We went back to Israel again once. We had Amsterdam in Holland, in Canada, Montreal, Canada. And our next one will be in Stellenbach, South Africa this July as a matter of fact.
And so there has been this thread of international victimologists meeting every three years and trying very hard to keep a balance between the theory and the practice of our craft. And I think we've been successful in doing that. We've always felt that it was important to keep a balance between theory and practice and our membership and our workshops and presentations that these symposia reflect, this marriage between theory and practice.
Seymour: And in terms of looking at international issues, John, is it helpful or what is the purpose of sharing information across borders because people handle victim issues so differently based on the country in which they live?
Dussich: Well, I'm glad you asked me that question because this, the thing about going to an international symposium is that you're exposed to very different ideas, different cultures, and different ways of doing things, especially as it relates to the criminal justice system and in this instance, how people think of victims. In a way, the American scene is really a reflection of the international scene in terms of there are so many cultures here, they come together and must be accommodated in some way. And being in an international symposium you realize how important it is to be sensitive to other people's ways of thinking, to be sensitive to how victims can be treated and the thing about international meetings, is that I'm continually amazed at how other people do things for victims in different ways that are some ways are not done in this country. And they give us, it's a source of creativity. It's a source of, new infor, excuse me, new information. I'm continuously aware of how people look up to the United States. And so there is this, there's this give and take.
They kind of look toward the United States as a source of information for what we do, but conversely how they interpret it and how they take it and modify it, is also a source of information for us.
Seymour: Great. I'm gonna take you back to the early days, John, and ask you what were the secrets and tactics and strategies that you and the early pioneers employed that were successful?
Dussich: Well, you know, it was, the big challenge, I think as I reflect back was how to make changes, how to convince people to do things in a better way, at least better was what I thought I was proposing and what others were proposing in a victim movement. And so the difficulty was to communicate to decision makers who were pretty conservative and I think that the LEAA planning process was a tremendous help in doing that because one of the mandates of the LEAA planning process was that the government would, the Federal government would only spend money for new programs. The money that was being put into states could not be used to duplicate old ideas and old programs. So that was a tremendous asset and the fact that I was working in a planning agency gave me an edge. It gave me the opportunity to have input into the creativity of putting information into a plan to be applied in a subsequent year. Another strategy if you will, was that we were meeting with decision makers on a fairly regular basis, people who realized that this money was only there for new projects and it was surprising how difficult it was to come up with new projects in all the areas that impacted on the crime problem.
And so to be kind of in the arena, to be there where these struggles were going on, was another major advantage for me and for some others who were trying to promote the rights of victims and helping victims in programs that promoted their recovery.
Seymour: And looking back also, John, to the early days or over the last 40 years, were there any failures?
Dussich: Well, I think there were many failures. I think the failures though were not necessarily because we were dealing with victims. They were also failures in the methods that were being used by LEAA at state and local levels. The one I'm thinking about is that for example we, you know, we were experimenting. We were trying new ideas that had never been tested. And we were just making a lot of guesses about what would work and what wouldn't work, not just for victims and victim assistance but you know, this can be applied to working in... in the area of law enforcement or of courts or with juveniles. I mean we tried a lot of things and they didn't work because they were based on unsound premises which we didn't know at the time. Another area and this relates to victim programs was that a lot of very, well-meaning, energetic people were promoting victim assistance and as soon as the people were hired, as soon as they were able to get funding, they went public in a very big way.
This was news. It was something that the media was excited to get and put on the screen and the TV and the newspapers, but the problem was that the expectations in the community were so raised as to be able to do something for victims, that these people were not trained in victim assistance. They didn't have the experience base that we had today. They didn't have almost any books at all to get knowledge. And the expectations of the community were so much disproportionate to what they were able to deliver that a lot of programs just went down the tubes. They just could not deliver in proportion to these expectations. And so one of the lessons learned in the subsequent programs was that going public was something that you didn't want to do early. You wanted to do it much, much later. You wanted to have people trained and you wanted to manage the media process so that you weren't misquoted or the expectations weren't unrealistic.
I think that there was an awful lot to be learned and that was why organizations like NOVA played such an important role because it allowed the people that come together on... on an annual basis and share the information, the trial and errors that occurred, and it was a tremendous asset to have that opportunity to share and to learn from each other every year, coming together on a wide, very wide range of issues that impacted on the victim assistance projects.
Seymour: This is a difficult question and I need to know what do you perceive to be the one greatest accomplishment that has promoted victims' rights and needs?
Dussich: Well, I...I'm really biased. I really think that hands down NOVA and the progress of NOVA and the things that were done with NOVA really was the greatest catalyst in America at least for victims and victims' rights. I mean not only did it continue to work for the people working for victims, the victim advocates themselves, but also did represent the voice of a new profession. And it also represented the voice of the victims who really were the ones who had the most silent role up to that point. And they did it at the national level. They did it in Washington, DC. They did it with the people who were making new laws. They were able to get into the president's office. They were able to launch victims' rights week, the first week every April, and get the president to sign proclamations and declarations and they were able to get governors to follow suit. They were able to put this on a national agenda. And I think that was especially as I go to these foreign countries where those things are not happening -- I think that has made such a great difference to the whole evolution of victim assistance in this country.
Seymour: Well, I really appreciate that 'cause NOVA's been around so long that I think sometimes they get taken for granted and a lot of people don't understand the early days and the challenges that you all faced.
Dussich: I agree and I think there's another dimension to NOVA that perhaps a lot of people are not particularly aware of and that is that NOVA's activities did, were not limited to the United States. As the NOVA folks, and especially Marlene Young, developed in the expertise of treating different kinds of victims, it was soon realized that we weren't just talking about crime victims because the way that people from all forms of victimization are impacted psychologically was very, very similar. The whole process of being impacted and traumatized, whether you're an earthquake victim or a war victim in Bosnia or a victim of a terrorist attack or a crime victim or an accident victim, the trauma and the impact of a trauma is pretty much the same. And additionally, the way that you treat victims, the way that you facilitate their recovery is very much the same and so it becomes almost artificial to say that we would only limit our work and our knowledge and our assistance to crime victims.
Andmany of us have realized this early on and we have begun using the same strategies, the same techniques in working with other kinds of victims, not just nationally, but also internationally. And this was sh, this has been shared at the symposia, the World Society of Victimology. It's also been shared on a more country-to-country basis, as some of us go around the world and offer our services to developing countries, esp... especially those countries that don't have access to some of the early information that we had. One of the, I guess a second, brings to mind a second, rather dramatic shot in the arm if you will, with reference to the victim assistance movement and that's the establishment of the U.N. declaration of basic principles for, of justice for victims of crime and abusive power.
Seymour: And, John, would you mind just giving us some details about how and why that was developed and what it means?
Dussich: Well, I think I'm proud to say that that is probably the product of the World Society of Victimology. In 1975, excuse me, in 1985 we had a symposium in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, and that was one of the agenda in the program and people like Irvin Waller and Leroy Lamborn really were leading the whole movement of getting something internationally accepted on behalf of crime victims.
Seymour: And before that, what was the level of acceptance?
Dussich: Well, it was very vague. It was not clear. It was not defined. We didn't even have a document at that point in time. And those two people, Irvin Waller and Leroy Lamborn did a lot to define what was wanted internationally and what might acceptable to the general assembly. And immediately after that symposium in 1985 we all went to a preparatory meeting for the United Nations in Milan, Italy, where we had an opportunity to negotiate if you will with people from other countries, criminologists, victimologists, lawyers, prosecutors, lawmakers, decision makers. And in that process was, there was the addition made to victims of abusive power. And so what came out of that was very much acceptable finally. There was a lot of haggling, a lot of struggling, a lot of backdoor decision making and convincing. And that same year, November in that same year, in the general assembly at the United Nations, the declaration was... was passed.
And from that, from, that has become the Magna Carta for the victim movement worldwide. And a few years thereafter we in the world society and others as well realized that... that we wanted to make this document a reality. And we wanted to move past just having a declaration. And it was then, with the help of the United States Ministry of Justice, the Department of Justice, that it was decided we needed a handbook that would interpret the intents of the declaration into a reality, into a document that would become a resource to victim service persons all over the world. And so in 1992, the United Nations was finally given the document that was then called, it is called, "The Handbook for Crime Victims." In additional to that, we were able to produce a document called, "The Guide" before decision makers. And these two documents have become perhaps the most sought after and the most used documents for helping people work with crime victims around the world.
And I think they've been translated into at least five other languages.
Seymour: All right. Thank you, also, for that. John, what do you think is needed today to continue the growth of professionalism of our field?
Dussich: Well, that's interesting because we really do need to go to the next level. I mean we have provided our new craft with a declaration that's been accepted around the world. We've provided them with a number of important workbooks if you will. I think the next step is to do the hard work of convincing people to change. As I go around the world in different countries, especially in developing countries, I find people who still don't even know about the declaration, let alone the handbook. And so I have tried to... to use my... my status as an American if you will because Americans in this field are still considered to be the experts in the area of victim assistance, not just Americans, however. It's, in all fairness some of the other countries that have also taken the lead is England and Canada and the Netherlands, and Australia, to mention just the main ones. And we have got to find a way to take the message to the rest of the world. Every country has crime victims. Every country has other types of victims and for the most part they are not being dealt with in spite of the declaration and in spite of these resources that are still available.
The problem is really one of priority. The problem is one of resources. The problem is perhaps even one of the Democratic process and human rights. I just came back from Colombia, South America, and these are countries that... that don't have very much resources and they're thinking that to help victims as well would be too much of a drain on their on their national budget. And so they... they do not... they do not see that the importance of... of using victim assistance work as a kind of crime prevention. One of the things I always repeat to them is good crime prevention really comes from good victim assistance. One of the things that I try to convince people in those countries is to recognize that many offenders who make victims themselves have been victims in a earlier phase in their life. (Change of tape)
Seymour: John, looking at the future growth and professionalism of our field can you think of anything that... that's currently missing or things that we need to focus more on?
Dussich: Yeah, just recently in January of this year, I and a few others established the American Society of Victimology. And at that event, the main theme was the professionalization of victimology and victim services at the university level and the involvement of academia in this process. I think clearly if we're going to professionalize victim services, we have got to create a continuous process of educating people who then meet the national standards and then these people with their credentials are accepted as the only persons who go into the working, working with victims. I think until we do that, we're going to continually be faced with people who are not properly trained or who are disproportionately trained. And I think we're on the brink of doing that. In fact that's going to be the topic of one of the special sessions coming up in January at the next symposium in South Africa. I think another area is that we've got to become more focused on those kinds of victims that are not being reached even though we have so many thousands of programs, most of them are based in urban areas.
I think we're still leaving out a lot of the victims that are in rural areas. And I think also, not just geographically, but I think we need to have, we need to add a dimension to the victim service process that goes beyond just setting up programs and offices and hanging out a shield and expecting people to come to the office. I think we need to develop to a much greater extent the process of what I call "victim advocacy outreach." I saw this working very well outside the field of crime victims. And that is that was in Bosnia when I went there immediately after the war and tried to work with those victims and realized how frightened and traumatized they were and there was a... there was a group of psychologists there that were working with children. And they literally went from house to house with other children and did therapy in the homes and provided assistance that these people, these kids could never have gotten because they were definitely not gonna leave their homes. I've seen this same process happen in Kobe, Japan, right after the earthquake, where again the people were displaced. They were afraid to be away from their loved ones. They were huddled together in... in schools and in churches and in community centers in trauma. And it was amazing to see psychologists who had good intentions.
They went there and set up offices and they put their shield out and no one ever came. And what we had to do was we had to create environments where they would receive care. They would receive attention. So one of the things that we did is we created knitting circles for the women and we inserted a victim care worker within the knitting circle. And as... as these people began to talk and feel comfortable with each other, they were able to talk about their trauma. They were able to start to identify what their feelings were and it's that kind of... of community involvement in outreach that really means that we need to take our services to the victim where they are rather than expecting them to come to where we are as... as kind of bureaucrats, I guess.
Seymour: And, John, one of the reasons we started the OVC Oral History Project is that there are many new people in our field who have just recently joined. And they don't know the history of... of everything you've talked about in our discussion. What advice can you give to professionals and volunteers who have more recently joined our field?
Dussich: I think right off the bat and I would say that it's really important to emphasize the relationship between theory and practice. I think there is a, there's so much to be gained by someone who is working with victims, if they understand the dynamics, the theory, the direction that theory is going, the research that's been done the whole issue of what are the definitions of these terms that we are using, before they start learning about victim assistance directly. I think theory gives practitioners a view. It gives them a framework. It gives them a, kind of a future perspective. Conversely, people who... who are in academia and who have, had minimal or no contact with victims directly don't really understand the reality, the emotional devastation that victims go through because they're dealing with victimology in the abstract. They're dealing with it as statistics. And I think a lot of the things that go into victimological work, be it research or theory, frequently has that missing link, that missing awareness of... of what it's really like to be there in the trenches and working directly with people who are suffering.
And one of the things that I try to do in my classes that I teach at the university is I try to take my students to meetings with victims and let them hear how these people speak and let them feel the emotion and let them connect to that tragedy in a much different way than they would ever get in a book or in an abstract discussion in a classroom. I think those are... those are important things that we need to recognize today and I think those are important things that need to be part of the future of working with victims.
Seymour: And, John, if you were going to talk to folks who have just joined the victim assistance field, recognizing that many of them are victim survivors themselves, what would you tell them is the difference between today, 2003 and when you began in 1974?
Dussich: Well, I think the difference is that we have matured immensely. We have now books on every aspect of victim assistance--then we had nothing. I think that, I say nothing I, the only two books that come to mind that we had when I started was Susan Brown Mill... Miller's book, Against Our Will. And the book that I mentioned earlier by Hans von Hentig, The Criminal And His Victim. The evolution of writing in victimology has been a major resource to the field. That the number of textbooks is growing, needs to continue growing, a number of organizations grow. I think a newcomer into the field needs to be aware of these things. They need to be, there needs to be an aware... .awareness that they're a part of a movement. They're a part of an evolutionary process that in the final analysis is going to, I think, humanize how countries respond to people in need, respond to victims of all types. They need to be made aware of both theory and practice. They need to be, they need to feel like they're part of, a legitimate part of, what government recognizes as an important aspect of the social response to these types of human problems.
They need to be trained. They need to be given an identity. They need to be paid properly. They need to be encouraged to seek victimology as a career rather than falling into it accidentally. I think there is legitimate space for people to work in academia as teachers. There is legitimate space for people to work, in the research that needs to be done, that supports how well programs do. I just, as I mentioned I just came from South America in Colombia and we went through a two-day training course with new people who are working for victims. And each of these, there were eight projects and each of these projects had created a service without knowing what had been done in other countries. There was no, if you'll pardon my academic reference, no review of the literature. And so we took them through a process of getting them to understand how important it is to do a thorough research and to find out where other people are doing the same kinds of things. And they were amazed that there were programs in other countries where the same kinds of clients were being addressed and where they could learn information...
...and they wouldn't have to make so many guesses and they would reduce their risk of trial and error. And so I think these are the kind of things that new people coming into the field, we need to hold them to the time-honored process of getting them to do a good review of literature; getting them to understand the few theories that exist in our discipline and find ways to teach them how to apply this knowledge and make the victim services and make the strategies that we employ more effective.
Seymour: And, John, what vision do you have for the future of our field?
Dussich: Well, I have a wonderful vision. I really think that we're moving in the right direction. I think the pace is different in each country. I think that at the international level we continue to push for a greater understanding of the plight of the victims and push for programs that will reduce suffering and prevent crime and facilitate recovery. I think that's going to happen within the next decade. I'm very heartened by the work that we're doing with the United Nations. I was at the, at an important United Nations meeting in Vienna just last month. A group of experts got together and we were able to include important wording in documents that will become resource information for the next United Nations Congress and decisions will be made on behalf of victims. Hopefully, we will even have a... a United Nations Office for Crime Victims which we are pushing for. We're trying to get the United Nations to fund victim assis, at least model victim assistance programs, again, especially in those countries that are poor, those countries that are developing. I see that happening in the next decade. I see the professionalization of the field.
I see a much greater awareness globally of how countries and individuals can reach an ideal because there's much more dialogue going on. There's much more information being shared. The World Society Of Victimology has a website. The Dutch government continues a web site which it started back in the year 2000. There are other countries that are developing societies on behalf of victimology and victim assistance. People are meeting for the first time in their own countries. This kind of sharing and this kind of networking is all very positive and I think the future is quite bright. And I'm very pleased to be part of that process still.
Seymour: And, John, if I was gonna ask you your greatest fear for the future, what would that be?
Dussich: My greatest fear. I think the greatest fear is that we would not use the lessons of the past. That we would use another fear is that we would use working with victims as an excuse to punish the offender worse, more severely -- that is definitely not part of the victim movement that I bought into. I think the worst, another fear is that we would remain narrow in our focus and only deal with crime victims. I think victimology is very quickly gaining ground as a discipline unto itself. Victimology is defining itself as the study of people who suffer in significant ways. And how that suffering came about is secondary. I think we're moving away from the narrow rather myopic view that we only focus on crime victims or accident victims or victims of one type or the other, based on special interest groups that are pushing and politicizing the victim movement. I think I would be very unhappy if we kept moving along in these narrow paths. And I think, I'm optimistic. I think that that will correct itself in time.
Seymour: Well, your optimism is heart... heartening. I want to ask you, John, is there anything else you would like to add that we have not covered in my interview questions?
Dussich: Well, this may be a surprise but I mean victimology and victim assistance is very serious work. We're dealing with people who suffer great tragedies. But there is a humorous side to working with victims. There is a lighter side and it probably has a lot to do with the way that we cope with our own secondary victimization. There's a professor at Florida State University whose name escapes me at the moment, Charles Figley, who came up with the term "compassion fatigue." And one of the ways that many of us who work with victims use as our own coping techniques is to make light of our work to get together and to... and to have fun as comrades and as colleagues in a... in a very important kind of work. And I think one of the examples of this humorous, kind of coping technique is a song that was developed by Leroy Lamborn. It's a, we refer to it as the "NOVA Song." No, no, I won't sing it. I won't sing it. (Laughter) But I can tell you that it's, that it's wonderful to see. A group of NOVA people stand up and sing this song to the tune of Old McDonald.
I think you need to interview Leroy Lamborn and get him to sing it. He's the author of... of the words, but it's just to me it's a... it's a metaphor for the way that people work, who are working with victims, cope with their very tragic and serious work.
Seymour: All right, hit it, John.
Dussich: Okay, well okay, I said I wasn't gonna do it, but I will anyway. Let's see, "We proud folks of NOVA are, e-i-e-i-o, with a victim here and a victim there, here a victim, there a victim, everywhere a victim, victim. We proud folks of NOVA are, e-i-e-i-o." I can't believe you got me to do that.
Seymour: That is the perfect way to end this interview with humor and thank you for talking about vicarious trauma because that's so important for us to be able to recognize and address it.
Dussich: Thank you, Ann. I appreciate your sensitivity and your skill in interviewing.
|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.|