An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
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Carol Lavery
Interview Transcript

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Interview Transcript



timecode Gregorie: This is Trudy Gregory and today we're interviewing Carol Lavery, April 13, 2003. Carol, will you state your agency and where that agency's located.

timecode Lavery: I work for the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and it's in Pennsylvania.

timecode Gregorie: Wonderful. Now, when and how did you first get involved in the victims' movement?

timecode Lavery: I actually got involved back in 1974. There was a group of professional people, volunteers, women as part of the women's movement, who really were focusing on the issue of rape. Some people had recently read an article in the local paper about rape crisis centers starting up in New York City and Philadelphia. And as part of those times, just wanted to do the same thing in our own community. So got together, put some ...did a little, a few newspaper articles and brought a few hundred people together to talk about what we could do for rape victims in our little town of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

timecode Gregorie: And what are some of the different agencies that you've worked for since 1974?

timecode Lavery: Well, I started as a volunteer in '74. I wrote the first funding grant not until 1979. Received some, what we, everyone calls, LEAA, Law Enforcement Assistance Funds through the Commission on Crime and Delinquency. So it really stayed as a volunteer agency till then and I was a full-time volunteer and it's pretty much what it felt like. I became its first Director at that point in '79 and actually stayed there for 17 years. The last seven years since '96, I've been working for the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. I took over, well, became the Director of their Office of Victim Services which was a brand new office in the commission because the Crime Victims' Compensation Program had recently been merged into the commission. So became the first Director of the Compensation Program and the Victim Services Office.

timecode Gregorie: What do you think were the benefits of having actually done work at the local level and then going to a state agency? What were some of the things that were important that you learned along the way?

timecode Lavery: Well, one of the things I tend to talk about I believe every person who works for government probably should have had to been the victim advocate, with all the skills that you learn about being tenacious, about working in systems and outside of systems have been really valuable to me as I've worked within government. But just putting that aside just the ability to really have spent a great deal of my time working with victims, talking to victims, working with victim service programs, working in partnerships and coalitions, all of that knowledge about what the work is really like. Having sat in courtrooms with victims, having ina peer adv, peer counselor, having to advocate for victims in those systems, being able to bring all that knowledge to government and so that I can talk about what it is like for a victim; what it's like for a victim service program, what their needs are; having to do the fundraising, the foundation work, the, having to write grants.

timecode I work at an agency where we process grants, but very few of the employees there have ever written a grant and knowing what it is like and how difficult that is and the importance of all the networking, being in contact with other victims, knowing who it, victim service people knowing who it is that I can get help for, from and also knowing I think valuing the voices of victims and bringing them together through PCCD has been also something that I've learned, out, you know, before I came to the agency and came to government.

timecode Gregorie: I know you've also been very active with the National Organization for Victim Assistance. Can you tell me a little bit about what attracted you to being involved with the National Organization and how that has enhanced what you do as a service provider.

timecode Lavery: Well, I feel that the networking is critical and it's one of the important components of victim services and it is a component that has really moved the field along. And I, having been involved to some extent on the local level and then it was a founder of the Coalition Against Rape in Pennsylvania and the Coalition of Pennsylvania Crime Victim Organization and eventually, I like change. I then became very interested in NOVA because of the work that they do, because they are, sen, tend to be, they are on the cutting edge. What I've tried to do for victim services in Pennsylvania is what they've demanded which is very much emulating a great deal of what NOVA has put out there as cutting-edge issues, as standards for how victim services should be performed ...just a lot of the legis, it, their education, their training is something that I've learned from observing them and really wanted to be part of that as a... as a member of the board, and as an active participant in the conferences.

timecode Gregorie: What would you say is one of the major accomplishments of NOVA through the years?

timecode Lavery: I think one of the major accomplishments is the, this is, well it's, the major accomplishments of NOVA is the quality of services that is available across the nation. I think they continually push the envelope by challenging the field. They give voice to victims through their forums, through their, the conference, so that those of us who are serving victims, who are trying to be... be helpers, can once again hear the message and keep up with whatever that message is because the message has changed over the last 30 years and keeping it in the forefront --that this is an important issue and it doesn't go away. NOVA doesn't go away. But the growth ... and shouldn't go away because of that strong continuous message and the forum for, as I said, for victim voices that NOVA does and pro... and provides to all of us.

timecode Gregorie: Well, now having taken that journey from the local to the state and then being very involved at the national level ever since 1974, looking back how would you describe the field of victims' rights and services when you started in 1974?

timecode Lavery: Probably, on a personal level, I would describe it as lonely. It was a place, and if we can think of it as a place or a house and that kind of visual, where there were just a few other family members, a few other people present there... there wasn't much of a foundation. It was ideas. There were strong people, strong-willed people who were very eager to learn how to help others, but there really, the literature, there was no literature except for what I'd say now we'd... we'd look back and say, "I can't believe that that's what they said about victims in books." And you read a training manual for police officers and it talks about how you would need to be sure to -- that most victims of rape, their testi, their... their in, their testimony was suspect because most rape victims lie or most women lie. That's, was part of the literature, the literature that would say that victims of child abuse very often participated in their own abuse and so the treatment and the interviewing would need to focus around, that's what we would read.

timecode So rejecting those thoughts .. the need to interact with others to get information, be very eager for that. And also it's a part of a movement where you had to start from scratch. There wasn't something that you could adopt from somewhere else. So the first training programs you created were from the first training programs. So that real need to interact with others, to learn from each other, to talk to police officers, to talk to mental health professionals so you could glean from each of them the best of what could be used and adopted for victims was very much a part of that. And again because it was part of, in the women's, what I, that piece, part of the women's movement, there was a great deal of conflict, a great deal of discussion around, "well, what are we doing? Are we doing this on behalf of women? Are we doing this on behalf of victims? Is a rape service or domestic violence service, is that victim services or is it something else?" So there's a great deal of controversy and discussion around those kinds of issues.

timecode I think there was also a tremendous amount of, at least at the grassroots level, animosity between what we consider people within the criminal justice system and those without the system and it was really working to try to overcome that. And sometimes we'd talk about just waiting for people to move on, waiting for people who've worked as police officers or in the mental health, just to retire because that was, it seemed to be... to be the only way that you could make... make some headway and some, and to some extent that's what happened.

timecode Gregorie: Looking at those two challenges that you mentioned sometimes those persons or positions that we had to wait for, and the conflict some, that sometimes existed, what would you say was the greatest challenge that you and your colleagues faced in effecting change through the years?

timecode Lavery: It was that animosity, that sense that we were at war... that if you were in fact supporting, think... thinking in particular the issue of rape, if you were supporting women as rape victims, then somehow you were anti-male. That it wasn't that necessarily that they, that men weren't suppor... supportive of women in that context, but somehow if you were, again if you were anti-rape, you were anti-male. And it was just very odd times because there's a tremendous amount of that animosity. It was also a time when although volunteerism was very strong, the sense of community policing or crime watches wasn't there yet, at least not in smaller communities across the nation. So you were meddling if you in any way wanted a voice within those kinds of systems. So it was... it was, every little step was a battle. Their doors were slammed shut over and over... over again, so the need for ten... for tenacity was real, real strong. So and I'm sorry I think I've lost the, your first part of the question there, but...

timecode Gregorie: Looking at challenges and I think you did a good job of identifying what that major challenge was. Then what were some of the secrets, tactics, strategies that you and your colleagues employed that worked?

timecode Lavery: I think learning, trying to learn as much as you possibly could about each one of those professions and trying to see their point of view. And it was at a time when that was difficult. It's so much more easy to do that now. We have so much literature. There's so much education about some of those areas, but these were often very closed systems if you interact with a police officer or a prosecutor on a personal one-to-one basis just didn't happen. There was a great deal, much, of more isolation in those days. So the challenge then was to try and see what was, what they had to deal with and then try to translate that again into how we as advocates could help them do their job and benefit victims. Or, but of course that's what we're talking about, but reality is we're trying to benefit victims, but how can we do that by partnering with them and learning that from a grassroots level. Over time it was... it became easier. There was a certain level of acceptance. And that was, that's a tremendous victory to have that, that some form of acceptance that we could work side by side but at the same time not be co-opted by those particular professions, no matter what they were.

timecode We're talking about hospitals, not just like, focusing on criminal justice, but it's just as true in the hospitals, just as true, I mean with medical professionals, with mental health, in everyone in their own little corners very little interaction amongst them. In fact that's one of the things that worked very well is over time we got, we were seen as the one entity that in fact interacted with each of them, so that police officers didn't talk to medical pro... pro... professionals, but we did. And somehow we became the intermediary between those. So it worked very, very well. A quick story would be police officers, when I first started accompanying victims to... to rape exams in the hospital which again was a new concept all by itself, yet the police officers in those days had to be in the emergency, in the examining room with the victim. Now that had a lot of repercussions. Number one, most victims at that point are saying, "Forget it." You know, "I don't... I don't want to even go through this and have a forensic exam if there's gonna be," again at that point in time, "a male police officer," because there weren't female police officers.

timecode There were very few of them. And then for the, but part of that was also learning and talking to the police officer about how much of a horrific experience that was for him, how difficult that was for him, again realizing they were mostly males at that point, and trying to help and do some support work around that. Eventually, over time that changed, because the whole concept of chain of evidence no matter, didn't mean anymore that the police officer, the law enforcement, had to actually observe it. So that brought some change over time, but it was having those conversations where, and working some things out where you just learn to stand individual, between the officer or be the focus person for the victim, that she, that you're the person she's looking at and not, and the police officer could be behind and not be seen. So some of those, it was just working those kind of details out.

timecode Gregorie: I know that the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape was one of the first state coalitions of rape programs and sexual assault programs. Was that a real strength when you began to coalesce together within the state?

timecode Lavery: Absolutely, it was a real strength. There... there are so many people that I look back as being so key to the development of our local program. We learn from each other. We shared funding applications and just kind of duplicated, changed the name of the city or town or county we were from, learning what the challenges were and at the same time having learn, being supportive of each other. I, it is probably true over time that you could somewhat call me a "moderate" in terms of the whole victims' field. But in my community I was as much of an extremist as, you know, very conservative community, so it was good for me to be able to go into another context, another group and be a moderate and be seen that way and be able to interact that way. There are people in the Coalition Against Rape and pride who is responsible for standing up to a subpoena for records and having the first state legislation that created confidentiality of records for rape victims in the nation and very proud of having worked with her and learn from her and interacted with her and also saw that strength of character that would say to a judge, "You know, I'm going to jail before I'm gonna give you this victim's records."

timecode And it's something that I some years later had to go through the exact same thing, the judge saying, "Turn the record over or, you know, bring your suitcase or, and your toothbrush 'cause you're going to jail." And having watched somebody else do that and also having a very optimistic outlook on life and getting through those kinds of things. But the coalition really enabled us to interact together.

timecode Gregorie: Did it impact how you could affect change through protocols and through legislation in this state as well?

timecode Lavery: Yes. Absolutely, it did. I can remember sitting in a room and working on the-- some protocol for hospital rape exams. The medical society, or medical association had come to the coalition and said, "Help us write protocol for how doctors should do rape exams in the hospitals." And that became the prototype for rape exams across the nation. That's, it's a wonderful advancement for victims, you know, rape victims. Legislation, again the confidentiality of legislation, fighting for and winning and sitting down with legislators around funding, a specific funding for rape victims for programs that would serve rape victims. Again, one of the first in the nation, which others, other kind of programs were able to emulate are very, very important strides. Pennsylvania has quality services in, particularly in rape and domestic violence. They've done, one of the reasons they've been able to do that is very much the coalitions there fighting on behalf of those victims being a strong voice, but also by making the resources available by working with the legislators and making sure there was foundation funding that was there year after year after year.

timecode And they did that very early on in the late '70s while other states were struggling just to have some money available so they could do the work everyday. That was something that the programs in Pennsylvania or people, volunteers across Pennsylvania did not have to do.

timecode Gregorie: Do you think that it made a impact in the decision of sexual assault victims to report when they no longer had to pay for their own sexual assault exam in your state?

timecode Lavery: Yes, it did. I remember very clearly that as a very, very important issue working on, with the, at one point, this is kind of interesting 'cause it changed later on, the whole concept, but the insurances at one time would not pay for anything that had to do with, not only the forensic rank, exam, but any injuries in the rape, because they considered it not an accident and, therefore, the victim was supposed to pick up any kinds of payments whatsoever and then working with some, making a little fuss over that and getting that taken care of. But having to walk in and make that payment for your own exam, unfortunately most victims wouldn't even have recognized that that was something that they were going to have to deal with, but that was also one of so many obstacles that were in the way of rape victims back in those days, so very many obstacles that we've... we've just taken for granted at this point in time.

timecode Gregorie: In the sexual assault victim services' field and the movement as a whole are there any failures that you think we have experienced through the last 30 years?

timecode Lavery: Failures there are, in some way if you look at where we probably could be by now and maybe are not ... would, and I think we com... we compare them to some of the successes, the success of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, in many ways the entire victims' movement on behalf of all victims could be in the same place, but we're not and so that, to some extent, is a failure. The standards, the fact that there aren't commonly accepted standards for victim services across this nation is somewhat of a failure for thirty years of service. The fact that most public still would never have heard of victims' program and maybe very recently just because of 9/11, finally understanding that there are repercussions -- emotional, financial, physical -- from... from victimization is somewhat of a failure that basically that more acceptance overall knowledge of victim services. And then there's the Constitutional Amendment, but that's not a failure. I don't think we're that far along in that particular area yet.

timecode Gregorie: When you look back at the history of the victims' movement and certainly your involvement since 1974, what would you say is the greatest accomplishment that has promoted victims' rights and services?

timecode Lavery: The vic -- the greatest accomplishment, that, it's very difficult to answer this question because there are so very many in so many different ways. The fact that so many people on a daily basis are able to receive crisis intervention, have someone sitting with them in court is an incredible accomplishment from... from a movement that came 30, 35 years ago with ideas of, well, shouldn't this just be a better world to live in? And shouldn't, whether it was women or children, just have something to help them with and that we're all misunderstood. To go from a concept and conscious raising and all to the point where people can walk into a center and receive services. Any, we have so many places across this nation and internationally. You can call on a telephone or get hooked up with a victim service and have someone there to help them is a tremendous accomplishment. And I do need to add a second and that's that victims can have a voice, that there is such a thing as activism, that those people who have gone through horrific experiences have a way and a means and a voice to express that and that become part of their healing.

Gregorie: Exactly, what do you think is... (Tape turned over at this point)


timecode Gregorie: Carol, what would you say the impact of the availability of compensation for crime victims, what is the impact of that been on our movement?

timecode Lavery: I think the positive impact is that it, just the fact that victims in many instances are able to receive financial remuneration. They can-- just helps the healing. It helps them move on. It helps them focus on some of their other issues. Money is a safety issue. If we don't have money, we... it's hard to, thinking about just eating and paying bills are, you know, is very difficult for us and then makes it difficult for us to move to the next stage, which is other forms of healing. So, for victims, it's helped them move on. For the victims' movement I think it has, in some ways, it's freed up the victim movement to not pay attention and that's a tragedy because it's probably one of the areas that we need to spend a whole lot more attention to. I strongly believe that victims' compensation is, it's a part of the victims' movement. It is part of victim services. Yet, we haven't quite recognized it yet. We see it on the outside or we see it as-- it's... it's part of the system. It's part of government, yet we should expect that the people who work in victims' compensation, those... those people who set policy in victims' compensation see it as a service that is integral.

timecode It is not separate from the need for emotional support and other kinds of services. It is part of it and we should be demanding and setting precedents and setting standards across this nation that are consistent, number one. But then secondly, that integrate those services together so that if you call a victims' compensation program, you're getting crisis services at the same time and it, once you're calling and if they find out that you aren't, don't have other forms of services, they're sending you to where you should be, you could be getting those services, so that it's integrated. And we haven't done enough research yet around the area of how financial problems that come while as, you know, if not having money, how much that impacts on our ability to heal, to kind of integrate those issues together. So I don't think we've paid enough attention and we've let it kind of develop a little too separately so that we see it on the outside and I think that's a tragedy for victims and for the field.

timecode Gregorie: What would you, you've mentioned standards several times. What would you say is needed today in order to continue the growth and professionalization of our field?

timecode Lavery: There needs to be -- definitely -- standards that talk about how victim service programs should operate. What is quality service? And that doesn't mean that we have to develop some homogenized treatment programs that say that if you were a victim of DUI that there is some service that is standard for a victim in DUI as there is in rape, we, one that really looks at the diversity of the needs of victims both based on the victimization, their cultural back, everything, pulls that all together. But the standards that really tell us what's quality so that, first of all, we know what it is we should be providing and that victims, no matter where they are or where they're from or where they're victimized, are going to get at least a certain basic level of services. If they're calling a hotline, there's a certain basic level that will be, that would be available to them no matter what. That's very, very important. And so that has to do with the program standards, but then also standards for the individual, some type of certification or at least, if it's a training-level certification or if it's a testing-level certification, we can't...unless we set the standards for professionalism within this field, somebody else is gonna do it for us.

timecode Or it's gonna be co-opted. We, one of the things that's very interesting, you get together with a group of victim advocates or people who've been in the profession or understand the profession, it seems that everybody talks about how we know what victim services is, but we haven't put it down on paper. And so it's, it hasn't really defined exactly what that means en... enough yet.

timecode Gregorie: What advice would you give to professionals and volunteers who joined our movement in the last several years? What would be the things that you would want to share with them?

timecode Lavery: Well, I'd like to tell them, if they can, stay in it in a long term because well, for two reasons. One, I think tenacity and patience are the... the tools that lead you to the biggest amount of positive change. But at the same time the rewards are there. It's, but it is the tenacity and the patience and the long-term involvement that leads to those rewards. There are victories everyday and there are also failures everyday. And seeing and experiencing with victims of crime, the pain that they go through on a daily basis is very, very difficult. But it's that, it... it's the long term. It's the day after day after day after day with the right kind of supports and positive... just involvement and experiences that make it really, really, really worthwhile of your time. I so appreciate the fact that I've got a long... long-term view backwards and I wish that on everybody.

timecode Gregorie: Well, looking backward then, but what is your vision for the future for our field?

timecode Lavery: I think the vision for the future is one where victim services is so integrated into the fabric of our society that every doctor knows through professional training, through their experiences in their own family growth or background exactly what to do with crime victims; that we know that instinctively or not instinctively through that understanding of victimization on an everyday basis how to help, whether it be that police officer or, that everybody knows how to do that so that then our job as victim advocates is to just reinforce it for those who really need something beyond that helping care that is provided on, by everybody else so that we're kind of the cream for those people who just need something beyond that. That's what I wish for the victim... victims and victim services.

timecode Gregorie: Do you have any fears for the future for victims?

timecode Lavery: I fear to some extent that we will become more isolated from each other, that we will particularly if there are funding issues, that kind of tear us apart instead of help bring us together ...that we won't recognize the importance of all of the work that each of us do and that it is different and needs to be different. That is probably what I fear that we... that we become our own worst enemies in terms of not being able to lend the support to each other whether it be because of burnout or because of lack of resources or whatever, any of those kind of negatives bring.

timecode Gregorie: And do you think that organizations like NOVA can help us deal with some of those issues?

timecode Lavery: Absolutely. Again, NOVA through the conferences, through bringing people together to... just enabling the dialogue keeps all of that... I think it keeps it at bay. It's not that those differences are hidden. They're brought out in the open and there's discussion about it and oftentimes it's the decision that... that, "okay, let's be different." And that's okay and we all can handle things differently, but being able to bring those people together is one of the things that through the conferences, through the dialogues, through the forums, through the board ...through just challen... challenging us on a regular basis. NOVA's played a very, very significant role and I can, I think it will continue to do that.

timecode Gregorie: So that it's important, I hear you say, for advocates and service providers to network locally at the state level and at the national level.

timecode Lavery: Yes, absolutely, it is. We encourage through our funding, their availability of our funding, through just general communication to have the advocates who work on a local level come to our statewide conferences and trainings, but we also strongly encourage them to come to national trainings, particularly to NOVA's conference. We have a large contingent of Pennsylvania folks who come together and they look forward to meeting each other in whatever state it happens to be because they are, it does two things for, from them, for them -- they're understanding, they're seeing what the cutting-edge is... issues are. They're seeing how other states are handling things, but they're also coming back with a strong pride in how Pennsylvania does because they do some of that comparison. And they learn what they do so very well. And there's a re-ener... energizing that comes from that.

timecode Gregorie: Is there any other thing that you would like to have on our tape today that we haven't mentioned?

timecode Lavery: Oh, a question I hadn't thought too much about. Other things that I would like to talk about, I think that this is probably---I think about being blessed in that I found this work and that I know that I can look back someday and say, "oh, that was tough. It was really tough." But in the long run, everyday was worth it. Every smile was worth it. Every time there was a small victory on behalf of one victim, that it was worth it. The fact that I was able to raise children in a way outside an abusive family and to break some of that cycle and the only reason I was able to do that was because of what I learned in the victims' movement is, are such very important things. I wish everybody had this kind of an opportunity.

timecode Gregorie: Thank you, Carol, and thank you for your work.

timecode Lavery: Okay, thank you.