An Oral History of the Crime Victim Assistance Field
Video and Audio Archive
Janice Harris Lord
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Seymour: This is Anne Seymour, Oral History Project, Justice Solutions.
Lord: Janice Harris Lord, J-A-N-I-C-E, H-A-R-R-I-S, L-O-R-D, and I'm a consultant in crime victim issues and former National Director of Victim Services of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Seymour: And what city are you in now, Janice?
Lord: I live in Arlington, Texas.
Seymour: Great. Janice, how and when and why did you first get involved in the crime victims' movement?
Lord: Well I came in through the child abuse door. My field placement as a Masters of Science and Social Work student was at Parkland Hospital, that's where President Kennedy died. And I was working in the Child Abuse Clinic there and got totally emotionally hooked on child abuse and neglect and sexual abuse and so went into that field for a while. Then I began realizing that battered children also often had battered mothers. So I did some things in domestic violence and then went to Mothers Against Drunk Driving in 1983.
Seymour: The... the, when you started in the field of victims' rights and services, which is... is it 25 years ago?
Lord: Sure. Um-hum.
Seymour: Can you describe what the field was like, but also give us the context of the era and the... the bonus question for you is kind of start then and maybe walk us through the '70s, the '80s, the '90s? And take your time.
Seymour: Okay. Well there were several preludes to the real opening of the victims' movement as we know it today and I guess I want to say here too, that I don't want us ever to get so arrogant that we forget those individuals, really throughout history, who have been standing up for victims. It didn't become a real movement in terms of funding and government intervention and all that until the '70s and '80s, as we speak of it. But, you know, I think of Susan B. Anthony, for example, who was harboring battered women back in 1860, 1870 and Jane Adams at the Hull House in Chicago, who was a very strong advocate for primarily child labor laws but that had very much intervention with child abuse as well.
So I want those pioneers to be recognized in this... this project as well. But the seventies really represented something of certainly the law and order movement was... was coming in then. The women's movement was just taking hold along with the anti-war sentiment, the anti-Vietnam War sentiment, all of which were kind of anti-violence movements that set the stage, I think, in a really wonderful way for the country to be ready in the mid-70s and early '80s to... to very much embrace the beginnings of the victims' rights movement.
Now on a more personal level when I was working with uh, Child Protective Services, there were a few of us in our program in Dallas who spent a great deal of time preparing children to testify and so forth. And I thought even then why doesn't the prosecutor hire somebody like me to be doing this, not only for these child victims but for other victims who have to testify? And I even talked to the prosecutor about it at that time and it was such a foreign idea. He said, "Oh, well I don't know, I never thought of that." So I, you know, I kept doing it through the Child Protective Services arena. So there was nothing, you know, in 1978 when I was doing that that I knew of.
Now what I know now is that by then, National Organization of Victim Assistance, NOVA, had been formed, there were some battered women shelters around, there were some rape crisis centers but none of that was widely known or recognized at all. I went to my first NOVA Conference in Des Moines in 1984 and that was absolutely my first introduction to the broader victims' movement. You know, I knew what we were doing at Mothers Against Drunk Driving but it was an amazing revelation to me that MADD is just a part of this whole family now that's coming together to stand up for the rights of victims. And I went back to Mothers Against Drunk Driving very committed that that organization see itself as a part of a broader movement for victims' rights.
Seymour: That's great. Moving from the '70s getting into the... the '80s, MADD started in 1980, what were the most significant changes or developments in the 1980s in the victims' field?
Lord: Well I remember when I started California was... California and Wisconsin had compensation statutes and that was it and hardly any (tape skipped)... in terms, it was a... it was a brand new revolutionary idea. Now, where MADD folded into that, I think, in my opinion, was its heavy emphasis on the voice of the victim. I mean it was so clear for Cindi Lamb and Candy Lightner and MADD, for example, to have the face in the media's eye. I mean little Laura Lamb in her tiny wheelchair as the nation's first quadriplegic at the hands of a drunk driver at age five months was, it gave heart and flesh and body and mind and soul and spirit to what we were about.
As Candy Lightner spoke of her daughter's death and I think particularly as Carrie's twin sister, Serena, spoke about what it was like to lose her twin at the age of 13, that... that kind of impact carried throughout the media, gave the movement exactly what it needed to be propelled into something bigger and I don't think that without that personal, heartfelt voice of the victim making its way throughout the nation the movement would have grabbed hold.
Seymour: Is that still true today?
Lord: I believe it's absolutely still true today. I think we have to uh, I think we have to work harder at it now because, after 30 years, this movement is becoming something of a, um, well there is a corporate feel to it in a way and that has kind of a cold feel to it. On the one hand I think we have to have something of that. We have to know how to be good business people. We have to do impeccable research. I mean, it is time for us to be able to prove now that the strategies that we use are working and to find out that some of the strategies that we're using aren't working and to make good professional decisions on the basis of that.
But we also have to maintain this compassion, this drivenness, almost, about the hurt and the pain that crime victims are experiencing. And if we don't balance both out, I'm afraid we're gonna lose. I think of it in terms of a doctor. I go to a doctor when I'm sick. A crime victim comes to us when he or she is sick at heart for sure, and sick in body as well many times. Now what I want in a doctor is somebody who knows the most current scientific research. I want them to be right on target with state-of-the-art treatment of me. I want them to be well-read. I want them to have read their journals and be knowing exactly what they're doing to treat me.
But I also want that doctor to be able to sit with me and give me time and look at me in the eye and be sure that she really understands my pain before she begins to fumble through papers or file through my chart or take notes or look at her watch because she's got somebody else out the hall. So doctors abide by uh, "do no harm." Good doctors do. They are... they are required ethically to do no harm and I'm very strong in my belief that we too, as a field, have to have that balance between up-to-date current scientific knowledge about what works as a practitioner, the good business skills of how to operate a business with not only legality, but integrity and at the same time the other 50 percent has to be that human spirit part and without it we'll... we'll lose.
Seymour: What do you think was the greatest challenge in... in the early days that you and your colleagues faced in affecting change in our field?
Lord: Well, most of my work right then was with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and I think early on, very much in MADD, it was that balance issue. We had very charismatic leaders who knew how to come to Washington to get every television station here in the nation to show up for a press conference on the Capitol steps, to capture the heart of America on the front page of America's headlines and at the same time those same... that same charismatic leader, primarily Candy Lightner, had very little business skill, business knowledge, information about how to run a corporation and frankly because she was so focused on the mission, she didn't care. Well somebody had to care and that was a... that was a real struggle for several years to create that balance.
I think we have to face that same thing now. Some of... some of our victims' organizations are becoming way too corporate and have lost the passion. Others are still trying to operate totally on passion and don't have the business sense to... to make it work. So I'm not sure that the... that the issue has changed over thirty years. I think it's the same basic struggle.
Seymour: Early days or even now, what do you think were the... the secrets and tactics and strategies that you employed that were successful, that really had an... an impact?
Lord: For Mothers Against Drunk Driving it... it clearly has to be skilled use of the media. There's just no other way that the country could now be, I mean you ask anybody on the street about the drunk driving movement, they have heard of MADD, they have heard the story, "designated driver" is in the dictionary now people have opinions about what .08 is and .10 is but they are at least speaking the language. The, without very skilled use of the media along with those victims' stories that general kind of sensitivity to at least drunk driving victimization would never have happened.
So I think that's a skill that we absolutely have to maintain and find new and creative ways to capture the media's attention. I mean I, a lot of people gripe about the media but, and there are problems, of course, but for the most part I think the legitimate press is doing a far better job of emphasizing the victim's side of the story now than they were back in the '70s and '80s. So, you know, I personally am about five percent gripe about the media and 90 percent give the media accolades for their good work in this arena over the last 30 years.
Seymour: Great. A sidebar question. You're a very noted author of a couple of books that dealt with the impact of sudden loss and grief and I know others had written but no one had ever I think compiled everything into a user-friendly format. What... what do you think the impact of... of No Time for Good-byes was and I don't remember when it was published?
Lord: It's still out there and I still, frankly I still find myself surprised because most everywhere I go somebody will come up and say, "Oh, I have your book and it saved my life," and so forth. I mean it... it was not an earth shaking book in any way but I think if it... if it is a success, it's because literally everything in there is because I listened to victims' stories. It's not because I am a skilled social worker. It is because the victims speak in that book and they tell their stories and they talk about what worked for them and what didn't work for them.
And it's that, it's a... it creates a forum, I guess, for which a new victim can feel connection with other victims but it's not my skill. It's the victims' stories that make it worthwhile.
Seymour: Okay. Looking back 25 years... over the past 25 years, Janice, were there any failures or are there any failures in our field?
Lord: Sure. Not any failures that have been fatal failures, I don't think, but there are some things that have certainly slowed us up and I think they are probably normal adolescent development issues. I mean, this is a field that I think has just gone through probably its adolescence and I think as we move now into more professionalism, we're moving more into our adulthood, we're... .we are more mature, we are a little softer, still compassionate but a little softer.
That I think the primary mistakes we made were just like boys fighting over girls and girls fighting over boys in their teenage years. I think it comes with the territory of limited resources and everybody feels that they have to get 'em, so we... we fight over 'em. I don't mind fighting fair. I don't mind having difficult discourse around the family table but I want us to be coming back for supper the next night.
And to the degree that those fights have demeaned individuals, not because of what they think or what they propose but because of who they are, that's been very hurtful because you don't want to come back for supper the next night when you've been hurt that way. And I really regret that some of that's happened.
Seymour: I remember when you said, "Don't fight." Two words, "don't fight." This is a hard question. What... what do you perceive to be the one greatest accomplishment that has promoted vics... victims' rights and services, or a couple if you can't think of just one?
Lord: Well, I know a lot of people would say legislative things and I do agree that that's been very important. I think the states that have passed Constitutional Amendments has been a wonderful thing. I think the fact that we're still working hard on a Federal Constitutional Amendment is another good thing. But I'm gonna say that the very best thing is that voice of the victim piece. It's the faces of children who have died, of adults who have died, of professionals who have died, it's the faces of those people in books and newspapers and on television and in movies that have really made the difference in heightening awareness about this issue.
Seymour: What do you think, Janice, is needed today to continue the growth and professionalism of our field, or another way to ask this question is, is there anything missing today?
Lord: Yes. I, as I mentioned, I think we're adolescents and I think a lot is yet to come through our adulthood. I would love for my grandchildren to decide to be victim assistance providers of some sort and be able to go to any junior college or university throughout the nation and receive education to do that. Now when I say that, sometimes people think "oh, she doesn't think we're good enough if we haven't received academic education" and I'm not saying that at all. I mean there is a huge place in this field for victims working with victims and there is a huge place in this field for volunteers and there's a huge place in this field for the pioneers to be grandfathered in to whatever kinds of next moves we make.
And I'm not sure what those next moves are likely to look... look like. But as... as a social worker, for example, I've... I've watched my field grow in my lifetime into beginnings of talk about certification and now, you know, social work is just now moving into licensure. It's... it's a brand new thing. It's not, you know, social workers are still not licensed in all states. We have some national credentialing-type agencies with their credentials but they are not mandatory yet.
Now you tend to think that social work has been around forever and yet we are just now making these moves as a profession. So uh, I think the field of crime victim services provision has to do that to keep up. I mean, I want my grandchildren to feel that a victim assistance provider is as due of respect as a professional as is a social worker or a psychologist or a lawyer or a doctor. And if we don't do these other pieces, the good research, the skilled teaching and education, we need our own professional journals. I know it's gonna take a little bit more time but we have to do that if we're going to have the respect of these other care giving professions.
Seymour: When we talk about certification or accreditation credentialing, what about people in our field, and there are many, who don't have an academic background? What...
Lord: Does not matter at this point. I don't think there is anyone in this field, anyone, I don't know of anyone in this field that is recommending that you have to have an academic degree to do this. Maybe there are, but I don't know of any of them. I do know that other professionals are. I mean, the... the field of social work as a whole is beginning to say, "We're smarter than they are and only we should be able to do it" and that's a real worry of mine. But I, you know, the... this field literally having begun as we know it only thirty years ago, I mean how could you possibly kick somebody out who has... who has helped us develop the field, you know.
Anybody who's been doing this for the last 10 or 20 or 30 years absolutely should be in until they choose to retire without having to go back and get some kind of academic work to do it. I just want it to be easier for my grandchildren. I don't want my grandchildren to have to fight all the fights and try to figure how to do it like we all had to try to figure out how to do it and are still trying to figure out how to do it. I want them to be able to go to their junior college or their university or their community college and have textbooks there with the current, state-of-the-art knowledge so that they can be trained to do this just like an EMT Technician, for example, would be trained to do their job.
Now they're still gonna need on-the-job training, like an EMT. I mean you don't take your class work and then get thrown in an ambulance. You are matched up with people who've been doing it a long time to continue the education. So it's uh, you know, it's not just getting a little certificate on a paper and it's not just taking a... a pencil and paper test and answering a little questionnaire. It's a combination of all of that, but it needs to be institutionalized academically so that those who choose to go that route to do it will have the arena to do it.
Seymour: You said something that clicked in my head. My mentors 20 years ago were Janice Lord and Dean Kilpatrick. Are we today, 2003, doing as much as we can? Are the elders of the field doing as much as they can to provide that kind of incredible mentoring and guidance?
Lord: You know, I don't think we are, and I don't exactly know the forum by which we could do it. I think we're all doing it as much as we can by the seat of our pants, so to speak, by telling the stories, you know. Simply by telling the stories and connecting with people in a heart-to-heart way we do uh, we do make that bridge. I'm more worried about, well I know a lot of people who came into this field maybe from a clerical position, and then there was some funding available for a victim advocate position or a victim assistance provider position and they got booted up because they were a nice person and they don't have a mentor to project this drivenness, I guess, that many of us old timers have.
So without that mentoring and without the academic that I mentioned they... they literally see themselves as paper pushers. "I'm here to help you fill out your crime victims' compensation application and that's what I do and here's the paper and here's the pen and I'm going to come back in in 10 minutes and I want you to have it filled out," without any understanding of how difficult that form is to fill out. You are in a hospital emergency room and your daughter has been raped and somebody who's funded to do crime victims' compensation comes in and gives you this paper that says "describe your victimization" and "what's the emotional impact of this and what are your expenses" and all that and you can't even think straight yet.
So, you know, without better either mentoring or education, that person is gonna continue to feel that her job is just a paper pusher and her job is to see that all those lines are filled in and that victim is being harmed by that person. (tape change)
Seymour: Final question. What advice can you give to professionals and volunteers who have just recently joined our field?
Lord: You've been given two ears and one mouth for a very good reason. You need to spend about the first three months at least of your job listening before you begin to give any advice and then only give advice when it's asked for. I'm a little concerned that we have people in the field who have not even learned the basic active listening skills. Now back in the early days we did a lot of focus on that and then maybe it's because a lot of us who've been doing training for a long time got more intrigued by fancier things and new topics and new arenas, we've kind of let that basic stuff go.
But listening and listening attentively and simply doing things like eye contact and nodding your head because that indicates that you really have listened, that's a healing technique and we so often think we have to do something to help. I would suggest that new folks in the field recognize the fact that simply sitting in a chair and taking time to look people at eye level and maintain eye contact and really listen is step one in healing. And maybe later on you can throw in another skill or two (interviewer laughs) but until you've got that one down, you may as well hang it up because you're gonna lose these people in pain if you can't do that.
Seymour: Janice, what vision do you have for the future of our field?
Lord: I don't know that I have vision beyond what I have already talked about. I do think there is a need for strong charismatic leadership at a national level through which in a way we can speak with one voice. We haven't had that for quite a while. We've had many voices doing very wonderful things but there's a lot of competition right now. I mean we're looking at world terrorism issues. We're looking at... at a lot of things that our citizens and our legislatures are genuinely concerned about.
So, I would hope in the next few years, someone emerges as oh yeah, when we see that woman or when we see that youngster or when we see that man, we know that's the victims' rights person to keep our, not only the public but the legislatures, a little more focused in these tumultuous times.
Seymour: Oh, that's interesting and the future... what is your greatest fear if you have one?
Lord: Well, my greatest fear at the moment, and this is January 2003 when we are hearing a great deal of talk about going to war, is that we might forget the war at home in our streets. Now, you know, this is a project that I guess people are gonna be looking at for a long time and that... that may be an irrelevant issue six months from now, but for this very day, that's a concern that I have, you know, less and less and less and less dollars are being given to people in pain at home.
Whether it's justice system victims or poverty victims or illiterate children less and less attention is being paid at that Federal level and that concerns me today, January 2003.
Seymour: I'm gonna ask you a bonus question. You... you have spent a lot of time looking at the role of the inter-faith community as has your fabulous husband, Dr. Richard Lord, what are some of the issues and challenges that you think are going to be important for us to address, to engage properly, various inter-faith communities?
Lord: Okay. Well, I think we have to start probably in the inner city where we have a very high number of crime victims and we have some very active faith communities. However, many of those inner city faith communities have focused much more on prison ministry and offender ministry than they have on victim ministry. So I think it's going to be a real challenge to broaden that... that focus in the place where it's needed the most.
I'm very excited about working on a grant right now to uh, bring the community services, community and the faith community, together in five urban areas around the country and those areas are yet to be selected but it's gonna be a challenge. I mean it's not simply a matter of calling a few people to a meeting and sitting around a table but, you know, trust is going to have to be developed. The... the faith communities are going to have to begin to believe that the victim assistance community really can help and the victim assistance community is gonna have to be more open-minded about what the faith community can do.
There is a... there is a legitimate concern, I think, in the victims' field about some clergy who tend to over-spiritualize the pain of victimization. Uh, if you just get it right with God, then you won't hurt from your victimization and that's... that's a legitimate concern. But I also think that there's been too much generalization in the victims' field saying the whole faith community is a bunch of crazy people who don't know and can't understand what victimization is all about who want to read you scripture and spout out answers and get you to join their church. That's kind of a stereotype that a... that a lot of people in the victim services field have about the faith community.
So I think both sides have to realize that they may some biased notions about each other that are not legitimate. And then we both have to be open to learn from each other in terms of cross trainings and cross education and all that that's gonna result in is step one, which is trust.
Lord: And then the programs can begin working together but we have to do the trust thing first and I think it'll be a challenge.
Seymour: Okay. I'm gonna ask you a follow-on question to that. I know you're involved also with the group of survivors and advocates who are looking at how victimization is viewed and treated by different faiths from Hindu and Muslim to Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, why is that significant or why is that important?
Lord: It's incredibly significant primarily for first responders. My goodness, if you are dealing with a victim of a faith that does not believe that the body should be touched or tampered with but should be immediately taken to the faith healer or person for consecration or whatever kinds of spiritual rituals need to be performed in order for that family to have some kind of spiritual peace and you immediately begin talking about autopsies and medical examiners and prosecutors where you may be of a faith where the whole prosecutorial system is viewed as non-peace loving uh, if I even speak my piece or speak my well not P-E-A-C-E, but if I speak my P-I-E-C-E about an offender that means that I have done damage to my relationship with my spiritual being, therefore, this is way down the line but I would never give a victim impact statement because that would have spiritual implications for me.
If... if you aren't aware of stuff like that, then you're gonna be doubly, triply, quadruply harming a family whose spirituality may be all they have to hang on to at the point of victimization by throwing in all these things that we tend to take so for granted when we come from a Judeo, Christian Caucasian background.
Seymour: That concludes my questions. Is there anything that you just want to add that I haven't touched on?
Lord: I don't... I don't think so. This has... this has pretty much been comprehensive.
Seymour : Okay. That's a wrap.
|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.|